Hawkeyes Head West

March 8, 2005

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IOWA CITY – The University of Iowa softball team travels to Sunnyvale, CA, this weekend to compete in the National Invitational Softball Tournament. The Hawkeyes face Connecticut at 1 p.m. and UC-Davis 5 p.m. on Friday in group play. The top two seeds from each group will advance to championship bracket play beginning at 10 a.m. on Saturday. The third seed in each group will compete in round robin play starting at 8 a.m. on Saturday. All time listed are central.

We are the Champions
The Hawkeyes claimed the Buzz Classic tourament title last weekend. Iowa defeated Georgia Southern and Middle Tennessee State in group play but fell to Auburn.

The Hawkeyes entered championship bracket play as the No. 6 seed and defeated Gardner-Webb to advance to the quarterfinals. Iowa defeated Virginia Tech in the quarterfinal round, which set up a rematch against Auburn in the semifinals. The Hawkeyes plated 16 runs on 13 hits against the Tigers and moved on to the championship game against Ohio State. Iowa defeated the Buckeyes 5-0 to earn its first tournament championship of the season.

Scouting Connecticut
The UConn Huskies are 1-3 this season.

Offensively, Allie Gendron is batting .667 (2-3). Three Huskies lead the team with two RBI.

Jessica Gurney is 1-0 in the circle with a 4.50 ERA. She also leads the team with 15 strikeouts.

The Huskies are scheduled to face San Jose State on Tuesday and Fresno State on Wednesday.

Iowa leads the all-time series, 3-1.

Scouting UC-Davis
The UC-Davis Aggies are 3-18 this season.

Stacey Benzing leads the Aggie offense. She is batting .333 with a .407 slugging percentage. Jessica Hancock leads the team with six RBI.

Inside the circle, Hancock has a 1-6 record with a 2.20 ERA. She leads the team with 50 strikeouts. Rachel Kelly is 1-4 with a 2.62 ERA while Lindsay Tognetti is 1-1 with a 2.68 ERA.

This is the first meeting between the two teams.

Nichols Going Deep
Fresman Emily Nichols had a breakout weekend at the Buzz Classic to earn her first Player of the Week honor. She went a combined 10-22 (.455) with seven home runs and 15 RBI in eight games. The Portland, OR native also had a tournament slugging percentage of 1.455. She hit two two-run homers against Georgia Southern and provided the game-winning RBI with another two-run blast against Virginia Tech in the quarterfinals. Nichols set two school records against Auburn in the semifinals, recording three home runs and eight RBI in the 16-1 victory. She closed the tournament by hitting yet another home run against Ohio State in the championship game. She was also named the Buzz Classic’s Most Valuable Player.

No Soup For You
Senior Lisa Birocci threw her second career no-hitter against Georgia Southern at the Buzz Classic. She also set a school record by striking out 17 batters.

Birocci was 4-1 with a 0.46 ERA and led the tournament with 33 strikeouts. Birocci also led the tournament in innings pitched (30.1), appearances (6) and games started (5).

Her performance landed her a spot on the all-tournament team.

Big Ten Honors
Nichols and Birocci both earned honors from the Big Ten for their efforts at the Buzz Classic. Nichols was named Big Ten Player of the Week while Birocci was named co-Big Ten Pitcher of the Week along with Michigan’s Jennie Ritter.

Nichols Closing In
Emily Nichols has eight home runs already this season. Iowa’s school record for home runs in a season is 10, held by Alicia Gerlach in 2000 and 2001.

Offensively Charged
As a team, the Hawkeyes have hit 20 home runs this season. Last weekend at the Buzz Classic, Iowa hit 14 home runs in eight games played. Nichols led the way with seven home runs. Brandi Sargent and Stacy May both had two homers while Ali Arnold, Natalie Johnson and Lisa Birocci each had one.

The Hawkeyes are chasing the school record for home runs in a season. The current record stands at 41 home runs, which was set by the 2003 squad.

Hawkeyes in the Rankings
Iowa is listed as receiving votes in both the ESPN.com/USA Softball and the USA Today/National Fastpitch Coaches Association polls. Michigan is rated 8/8 while Northwestern is rated 23/RV. The new weekly polls are released Wednesday mornings.

Weinberg Joins Team
Senior Barb Weinberg has joined the Iowa softball team. Weinberg was a two-time all-American and three-time all-Big Ten goalkeeper for the Iowa field hockey team. She was selected to the U.S National field hockey team in January.

Movin’ On Up
Senior Lisa Birocci is currently fourth on the career strikeout list (748). Junior Ali Arnold is seventh (335).

Venturella Promoted
Michelle Venturella enters the 2005 season as Iowa’s first ever associate head coach. Head Coach Gayle Blevins announced the promotion last July.

Venturella serves as the Hawkeye recruiting coordinator and hitting coach along with coaching the Iowa catchers. As a member of the USA softball team she garnered four medals, one of which was the gold medal at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia.

Bilbao Returns to Iowa
Former all-American Debbie Bilbao has been hired as Iowa’s new assistant coach. Bilbao was head coach at Utah State from 2002-04 before making the move back to Iowa.

As a player, Bilbao helped guide the Hawkeyes to three straight College World Series appearaces (1995-97) and still holds three school records. Bilbao will be Iowa’s pitching coach.