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Hansen: Despite Big Ten tourney run, softball continues to slide

BY JORDAN HANSEN | MAY 13, 2015 5:00 AM

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Two wins in the Big Ten Tournament — one a major upset — likely has the Iowa softball team feeling the season was a success.

That’s fair; but don’t forget the Hawkeyes lost 40 games for the first time in program history. A strange year for a run in the tournament, but it was the first time that Iowa has won a postseason game in five years under head coach Marla Looper.

Even more, it was done with just one pitcher who was ready to pitch at a Division-I level.

It was a good way to end a season the team would like to mostly slip under the rug.

The Hawkeyes finished 19-40, and it was a season that included a 9-25 mark in nonconference play. To be fair, the Hawks did play 19 games against ranked opponents.

However, they lost 16 of those 19. Even worse, they were outscored 116-26 in games against ranked opponents.

Looper and her staff could argue that it was an important step for a relatively young Iowa team that needed to see good competition.

While that assessment does have some validity, losing eight games against ranked opponents by run-rule does not put a winning culture in place.

It could be argued that Iowa’s postseason victories over Rutgers and Minnesota (which outscored Iowa 25-0 in the regular season) were the result of learning from the painful losses and mistakes during the regular season.

If that is the case, then congrats to the team on learning that losing is not very fun.

More than likely, however, it seems that Iowa got hot at the right time and rode a truly memorable performance by senior shortstop Megan Blank (.545 batting average, 3 doubles, 2 singles, and a triple in the tournament) along with a strong finish to an up-and-down season for pitcher Shayla Starkenburg.

Not to take away anything from a truly impressive postseason run, but things did line up well for Iowa to have a strong finish to the year.

The issue that now comes to the Hawkeyes is trying to replicate that success, which will be a task.

Iowa only had one underclassmen — redshirt sophomore Sammi Gyerman — hit over .300 this year. The other seven underclassmen with 30 or more at-bats combined to average just .221.

As a team the Hawkeyes hit .261 this year, an average that drops to .237 when Blank’s stats are removed.

An off-season working with first-year hitting coach Adam Arbour should help, but Iowa still lags quite a bit behind the rest of the Big Ten, which hit .309 as a conference this season.

The Hawkeyes will get a bit of help from incoming freshman Brooke Rozier, who hit .425 with 28 RBIs during her senior prep season in Missouri. The team also adds pitching with incoming freshman Erin Riding, who helped lead McKinney Boyd (Texas) to the 5A regional quarterfinals during her junior year, though her team stumbled to a 4-12 record during her senior season.

Riding should help, but there’s still quite a bit of work on the mound to be done. Starkenburg has power and is slowly learning how to refine that part of her game. She had 194 strikeouts to 171 walks, but she did hit 31 batters, second most in the conference. That said, Starkenburg was asked to do quite a bit this year and pitched 250 innings on the season — the most in the conference.

Will it be enough to get Iowa back on the national radar? Possibly, though it doesn’t seem likely that the Hawkeye softball team is poised to make a big jump from this year to the next.

It’s a shame, really. Iowa was once something akin to a Northern softball powerhouse under former coach Gayle Blevins, making 16 NCAA Tournaments and four College World Series during her 1988-2010 tenure.

Big shoes to fill. But for an Iowa program that has now spent five seasons under Looper’s watchful eye and been nowhere close to a berth in the NCAA regionals, it’s more than a little disappointing.

Follow @JordyHansen for news, updates, and analysis about the Iowa softball team.


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