Softball knocks off Rutgers

BY CHARLIE GREEN | MAY 08, 2015 5:00 AM

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After being down much of the night, Iowa softball rallied to defeat Rutgers, 5-3, in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament Thursday.

“I’m proud of this group and how they continued to scrap tonight,” head coach Marla Looper said. “We got down early; unfortunately, we’ve done that a few times this year.

“They never said die, they never quit, and they continued to plug away.”

After striking first with a run in the first inning, Rutgers blasted a 2-run homer over the left field wall in the third inning to put its lead at 3-0.

The Scarlet Knights kept that lead into the fifth inning, then loaded the bases with no outs. But Hawkeye sophomore pitcher Shayla Starkenburg retired the next three batters and kept Rutgers from blowing the game open.

In the top of the sixth, the senior Megan Blank led off with a triple, and junior Holly Hoffman wasted little time in driving her in with a single. Sophomore Kaitlyn Mullarkey, who smashed a 2-run homer to tie the game at 3.

“Once we started making adjustments, we started squaring the ball up … when that happens, the odds are in your favor,” Looper said.

In the seventh, Sammi Gyermann gave the Hawks the lead for good with a 2-run blast. Starkenburg put the Rutgers bats down in the top of the seventh to seal the deal.

“She was throwing first-pitch strikes a lot,” Gyerman said describing her home run. “I just kept it in my mind to be ready for that.”

Starkenburg pitched a complete game for Iowa, giving up 3 hits, 4 walks, and striking out 5.

Rutgers’ senior Chandler Howard and junior Jordan Whitley had 3 hits each for the Scarlet Knights. The remainder of the lineup failed to record one.

Each of the Hawks’ top three hitters — Gyerman, Blank, and sophomore Claire Fritsch — went 2-for-4 with a run scored.

The win marks the first time in three years the Hawkeyes have advanced past the first round of the tournament.

“I’m just proud of this group,” Looper said. “They continue scrap, they continue to claw. That’s grit, and that’s Iowa softball.”

With the victory, the Hawks advance to take on No. 2 seed Minnesota today. In three games this season, the Gophers have outscored the Hawks 25-0.

Iowa faces a daunting task in facing Minnesota sophomore Sara Groenewegen, who recently was named Big Ten Player of the Year. The Gopher standout has been a standout at the plate in 2015 and also went 28-4 in the pitcher’s circle.

“First things first; we need to keep playing defense well, that has kept us in a lot of games,” Blank said. “I think seeing Groenwegen a couple times already is definitely a benefit to us, so hopefully, we can keep ourselves in the game until we can get a couple runs across.”

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