Hawkeyes Challenge Illinois in B1G Opening Series

March 21, 2014


The University of Iowa softball team begins Big Ten action with a three-game series at Illinois, March 21-23. The series opens with a 4 p.m. (CT) game on Friday, continues with a 1 p.m. (CT) contest on Saturday, and concludes with a 1 p.m. (CT) game on Sunday.

Fans can follow along with each of the games at Illinois through a live audio broadcast provided by Jon Swisher. Links to the broadcast are available on the softball schedule page at hawkeyesports.com.

Live stats (Gametracker) is also available for all three games of the series at Illinois. The “GT” link can be accessed under the “Calendar” tab on the front page of hawkeyesports.com or on the softball schedule page. For in-game updates, follow @IowaSoftball on Twitter and “like” our official page on Facebook, facebook.com/iowahawkeyessoftball.

? Iowa leads Illinois, 18-12, in the all-time series.
? The Fighting Illini swept the Hawkeyes in a conference doubleheader last season. Illinois won game one, 8-5, and game two, 6-3. The contests were played at Pearl Field in Iowa City.
? Iowa last defeated Illinois in 2012, when the Hawkeyes swept the conference series in Iowa City. Iowa won 5-1 and 9-1 on March 31, 2012, and completed the sweep with a 1-0, 10-inning victory on April 1, 2012.
? Iowa and Illinois have swept one another in each yearly series since 2005. Iowa has swept Illinois five times, while Illinois has swept Iowa on three occasions.

Iowa outfielder Whitney Repole’s twin sister, Katie Repole, is an infielder at Illinois. The Repole family keeps track of which team wins the series each season and bragging rights are issued to the winning twin. Last season, Katie got to brag as Illinois swept Iowa in the conference series, but Whitney is eager to turn the tide with the Hawkeyes this weekend.

Iowa will appear once on the Big Ten Network this season against Minnesota in Iowa City. The double header, originally scheduled for April 9, will now be played on April 8 to coincide with the network schedule. The broadcast will begin with game one at 3 p.m. (CT). BTN will also cover Big Ten Tournament action in Evanston, Ill., May 9-10. Iowa’s home series with Northwestern will be covered live online by the Big Ten Digital Network.

Big Ten foe Illinois brings a 14-7 overall record into the weekend series. Three regulars in the Illini lineup are hitting above .300 this year, including Alex Booker (.419), Ruby Rivera (.361), and Allie Bauch (.356). Pitcher Brandi Needham paces the team in wins (9), ERA (1.63), appearances (15), starts (11), complete games (8), saves (1), innings pitched (77.1), strikeouts (42) and opponent batting average (.214). The roster is comprised of five freshmen, seven sophomores, five juniors, and two seniors. Illinois is led by head coach Terri Sullivan, associate head coach Donna DiBiase, assistant coach Katie O’Connell, and volunteer assistant Tom Hazelhurst.

UI softball posted an 8-15 record in Big Ten play and tied for ninth place a season ago. The Hawkeyes topped Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Penn State once; defeated Northwestern twice; and swept Purdue. Minnesota and Michigan took three games from Iowa, while Illinois, Penn State and Nebraska posted two wins over the Hawkeyes. Ohio State bounced Iowa from the Big Ten Tournament in game one, 8-4.

Senior third baseman Michelle Zoeller fueled Iowa’s 6-5 comeback win over the Longhorns on Sunday, March 16. She went 2-for-4 at the plate with two runs scored. Zoeller started the second inning with her first triple of the season and the fourth of her career. She slid in safely at home on a squeeze play to give the Hawkeyes a 1-0 lead. In the top of the seventh inning, trailing Texas 5-2, and faced with a bases loaded situation, Zoeller hit the first grand slam of her career to give Iowa a 6-5 advantage. The slam proved to be the game-winner as the Iowa defense held Texas scoreless in the bottom of the inning to solidify its 6-5 victory.

Junior Megan Blank owned the top spot with an Iowa career batting average (.413) prior to the start of the season. She is currently tied for 11th in career doubles (35). Blank is two triples from entering Iowa’s career list with a total of eight and is 10 RBIs from entering the rankings with 91 on the season. Senior Kayla Massey is also ranked in several career categories. She is eighth in complete games (71), ninth in games pitched (113) and wins (46), and 10th in strikeouts (360).

? As a team, Iowa ranks 11th in double plays per game (0.56), 26th in triples per game (0.31), and 60th in doubles per game (1.38).
? Whitney Repole is 66th nationally in hit by pitch per game (0.27).
? Kayla Massey is 85th in shutouts (2).
? Erin Erickson and Michelle Zoeller are both ranked 94th in doubles per game (0.31).

? Iowa is 12th in Big Ten standings heading into conference-opening action. The Hawkeyes have an overall record of 5-13.
? Pitcher Micaela Whitney is first in triples allowed (1), and third in hits allowed (23), runs allowed (15), and doubles allowed (3). In addition, Whitney is fourth in earned runs allowed (11).
? Pitcher Shayla Starkenburg ranks first in triples allowed (0), third in hits allowed (23), fourth in doubles allowed (4), seventh in runs allowed (20) and home runs allowed (1), and eighth in earned runs allowed (16).
? Pitcher Kayla Massey is eighth in games started (10), fourth in caught stealing by (6), and 12th in innings pitched (57.0).
? First baseman Alyssa Navarro is second in fielding double plays (9), seventh in chances (148), and ninth in putouts (134).
? Second baseman Claire Fritsch is fourth in fielding double plays (7) and eighth in assists (51).
? Catcher Holly Hoffman leads the conference in the caught stealing by category (9).
? Outfielder Sammi Gyerman ranks fourth in triples (2).

The Hawkeyes average more than one double per game (1.38) and are 60th in the category nationally heading in to their conference-opening series at Illinois. Erin Erickson and Michelle Zoeller lead the way with five doubles apiece on the season, while Claire Fritsch, Megan Blank, Kayla Massey and Whitney Repole each have three. Brianna Luna added one double at Texas State, bringing the Hawkeyes’ total to 23. The Hawkeyes recorded a game-high four doubles against Valparaiso on Feb. 28 at the Wildcat Invitational in Tucson, Ariz. Iowa has hit five more doubles than its opponents (17).

Catcher Holly Hoffman has consistently been erasing base runners for the Hawkeyes this season. The redshirt sophomore has thrown out 9-of-23 runners attempting to steal a base (39 percent). Her nine runners caught stealing leads the Big Ten. The second-highest caught stealing total is eight, held by Nebraska’s Taylor Edwards. Hoffman needs to catch just four additional runners stealing to match her 2013 season total of 12.

Two of Iowa’s 13 losses have come at the hands of ranked foes: No. 14/18 Missouri on Feb. 14 (2-1 in eight innings) and No. 14/16 Baylor on Feb. 15 (2-0). The Hawkeyes have also been defeated by teams receiving votes in at least one of the national polls on six occasions this year: Lipscomb on Feb. 14 (10-0 in five innings), UAB on Feb. 15 (6-1 in nine innings), and Mississippi State on Feb. 21 (2-0), Feb. 22 (5-0), and Feb. 23 (9-1 in five innings). Iowa is scheduled to play No. 15/17 Nebraska and No. 23/RV Northwestern three times and No. 18/20 Missouri and No. 16/19 Minnesota twice in the remainder of the 2014 season.

UI softball has turned 11 double plays in 18 games and was ranked 11th in double plays per game (0.56) in the most recent release of NCAA statistics. Every player in the infield, including a pitcher, has taken part in at least one double play this season. First baseman Alyssa Navarro has been a part of a team-most 10 double plays, followed by second baseman Claire Fritsch who has taken part in seven. Shortstop Megan Blank (4), third baseman Michelle Zoeller (2), catcher Holly Hoffman (1), and pitcher Kayla Massey (1) have also played a part in at least one double play this season.

The conference recognized Iowa softball alum Kristin Johnson this week as a part of the Big Ten Medal of Honor 100th Anniversary Spotlight. Johnson was a two-time NFCA All-American and Academic All-Big Ten selection, who earned the Big Ten Medal of Honor in 2003. Johnson was a four-time All-Big Ten selection, including as a freshman in 2000, when she was the only player in the conference to be named a unanimous first-team All-Big Ten pick. She also collected first-team All-Big Ten plaudits as a senior in 2003 after being named a second-team NFCA All-American. Johnson, who was named Iowa’s Golden Glove Winner in all four seasons, led the Hawkeyes to Big Ten Championships in 2001 and 2003. She was a member of the Academic All-Big Ten team in both her sophomore and junior seasons.

Fourth-year head coach Marla Looper has a career coaching record of 89-87 (.506). She is just 11 wins from achieving her 100th win as a head coach. Looper recorded 27 wins in 2011, 27 wins in 2012, and added 30 wins in 2013. The team’s 30 wins last season was the highest win total since 2009 when the Hawkeyes posted a 42-19 mark.

College Sports Madness recognized Iowa softball on several occasions in the preseason. The Hawkeyes were named the No. 40 team in the country by the site on Jan. 9. College Sports Madness also recognized shortstop Megan Blank as a preseason first team All-Big Ten and preseason second team All-American in February.

A STELLAR DEBUT Redshirt freshman Shayla Starkenburg made a successful Hawkeye debut at the Carolina Classic. The right-handed pitcher collected the first start, win, shutout, and one-hitter of her Hawkeye career in Iowa’s first game of 2014 against UNC Greensboro on Feb. 7. Her no-hit bid held until midway through the sixth, when UNCG recorded a single. She recorded five strikeouts in her seven innings pitched. Starkenburg made her second appearance of the season in relief against Presbyterian. She entered the contest in a bases loaded situation with two outs and an Iowa lead to protect. With the game on the line, Starkenburg ended the threat, forcing a ground out to end the game in Iowa’s favor 6-3 and record her first career save. Starkenburg made her third and final appearance against Ohio in relief. She held the Bobcats hitless and scoreless. On the weekend, Starkenburg posted 1-0 record, 0.00 ERA, and five strikeouts. She gave up just one hit, holding her opponents to a .043 batting average.

Hawkeye infielder Claire Fritsch was named to the Getterman Classic all-tournament team after leading all hitters with a .538 batting average (7-of-13). Of her seven total hits, two were doubles — the first of her Iowa career. She also added an RBI, stolen base, sacrifice bunt and a run scored. The freshman grew up in Round Rock, Texas, just an hour and a half from Waco, and her parents were in the stands to see her excel on the field in an Iowa uniform.

Hawkeye junior Megan Blank appeared on the Top 50 Watch List for the 2014 USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year released on Jan. 29, 2014. The shortstop — making the list for the first time in her career — is one-of-seven student-athletes from the Big Ten and one-of-20 juniors included in the Top 50. The list is narrowed to the top 25 on April 9, the top 10 on May 7, and the top 3 on May 21. The 2014 Softball Collegiate Player of the Year will be announced prior to the start of the Women’s College World Series on May 27. The award, given by the National Governing Body for softball in the United States, is designed to recognize outstanding athletic achievement by female collegiate softball players across the country.

Megan Blank hit .437 in 2013, setting Iowa’s single season batting average record. The previous record was .428, set by Kim Davis in 1993. Her career average is .413, also marking the highest in program history. Blank’s 59 RBIs in 2013 mark the second-highest single-season total in program history. Debbie Bilbao posted a school record 61 RBIs in 1997. Blank also belted 11 home runs in 2013 — the third-highest single-season total.

Shortstop Megan Blank was invited to the 2013 USA Softball Women’s National Team Selection Camp, held in Oklahoma City on June 10-12 at the ASA Hall of Fame Complex following her sophomore season. Blank was one of 32 athletes, and one of six sophomores, invited.

Shortstop Megan Blank was named a 2013 National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) First Team All-Midwest Region selection, earning her second all-region honor in as many seasons. Blank is the sixth Hawkeye in program history to garner all-region honors in each of her first two seasons. She became the ninth player in program history to earn all-region recognition as a freshman, as she was named to the second team.

The Big Ten Tournament returned in 2013 for the first time since 2008. The Hawkeyes have claimed two Big Ten Tournament titles (2001, 2003) and won 21 games in the event all-time — the second most of any team. The conference tournament was discontinued from 2009-12. Iowa fell to Ohio State, 8-4, in the first round at Bowlin Stadium in Lincoln, Neb. The Hawkeyes held a 4-1 advantage moving to the bottom of the fifth before the Buckeyes plated six runs to rally for the victory.

Iowa has made four Women’s College World Series appearances (1995, 1996, 1997, 2001) and played in 16 NCAA Tournaments in school history. The 16 appearances are the second most in Big Ten history, and the four WCWS appearances equal the second most in conference history. The Hawkeyes have won four Big Ten Conference regular season championships (1989, 1997, 2000, 2003) and two Big Ten Tournament titles (2001, 2003).

Iowa is scheduled for a three-game series at Wisconsin March 28-30. The teams will challenge one another at 4 p.m. (CT) on Friday, 12 p.m. (CT) on Saturday, and 12 p.m. (CT) on Sunday. The UI will return to Iowa City on April 2 for its home-opener against Drake. First pitch is slated for 6 p.m. (CT) at Pearl Field.