Softball Looking to Streak into B1G Play

March 16, 2013

Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — The University of Iowa softball team opens Big Ten play March 22 in Iowa City against Minnesota. First, the Hawkeyes are looking to finish their pre-conference slate in strong fashion.

Iowa (17-6) is off to its best start since the 2009 season, when it opened with an 18-5 record in its first 23 games. The Hawkeyes have registered a winning record in all five of their tournaments to date, and have won 8-of-9 overall.

Iowa has the second most wins (17) in the Big Ten, and a winning percentage (.739) which ranks 37th nationally out of 292 teams. The Hawkeyes also have three wins over ranked opponents (No. 11 Louisiana-Lafayette, No. 15 Stanford, No. 24 Oregon State).

Iowa will face three more ranked foes this week in the state of Kentucky. The Hawkeyes will play No. 24 North Carolina (11:30 a.m.) and Ball State (2 p.m.) on Sunday to open play. Iowa continues action on Monday facing Ball State a second time (10 a.m.), and No. 11 Louisville (12:30 p.m.). All four contests will be played at Ulmer Stadium in Louisville, Ky.

The Hawkeyes then travel to Lexington, Ky., to face No. 17 Kentucky on March 20 at 3:30 p.m. at the UK Softball Complex, before returning home to begin league action.

For Iowa’s continued success, a mindset must be found before entering the diamond.

“We need to go in and walk on the field like we deserve to be there, like we belong,” said UI head coach Marla Looper. “We have at times this year… Fullerton, every game we stepped on the field: ‘this field is ours, welcome.'”

The Hawkeyes finished with a perfect 4-0 mark in the Easton Invitational, March 1-2. Iowa defeated two top-25 opponents — No. 15 Stanford (7-6) and No. 24 Oregon State (9-3) — and Cal State Fullerton (7-0) and CSU Bakersfield (5-3). The Cardinal had won 10-of-11 entering the contest, while the Hawkeyes ended the Beavers’ 12-game win streak.

Last weekend, Iowa finished 3-1 in the Miken Invitational in College Park, Md. After a tough loss to St. John’s to open play, the Hawkeyes blasted their final three opponents, scoring 27 runs in 18 innings in three wins over Ohio State, Radford and future Big Ten foe Maryland.

Iowa downed the Terrapins (9-4) before earning two run-rule victories against Radford (10-0, five innings) and Ohio State (8-0 six innings). The Iowa offense plated 18 runs on 23 hits in 11 innings against the Highlanders and Buckeyes, and starters Chelsea Lyon and Kayla Massey combined for 11 scoreless innings inside the circle. Freshman catcher Holly Hoffman capped Iowa’s big day with a walk-off grand slam against Ohio State.

“We struggled a little bit last weekend,” said Looper. “We were sleep-walking through the first day. The next day, we stepped up and said welcome to my field. It is not arrogance, it is confidence.

“It goes back to the boxing match we have talked about. You cannot get in the ring and be timid, because you are going to get knocked down over and over. You have to step in and be big. You are still going to get hit, but you won’t get knocked down.”

Looper wants her squad to continue attacking. Iowa is 11-1 when scoring first.

“For us to finish our preseason like we want in these next five games, we have to attack and be the aggressor,” said Looper. “We will have to take a blow periodically, but give one right back and eventually give them the knockout punch.

“We are going to face opponents similar to what we faced two weeks ago in California — very tough teams that do not lose many games and have similar records to us.”

Looper and the Hawkeyes are excited for the spring trip to Kentucky.

“We will match up well with these teams,” said Looper. “I am excited and ready because I like the competitive fire our team has. That is what is going to allow us to continue to reach and surpass our expectations and goals we have set.”