May 9, 2015
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COLUMBUS, OHIO — The University of Iowa softball team rallied to come within three runs, but could not complete the comeback in Big Ten Tournament semifinal action against third-seeded Nebraska on Saturday. The Huskers recorded the 9-6 victory to move on to the tournament final to face top-seeded Michigan.
“It’s hard to end the night the way we did, because it’s over for us,” said head coach Marla Looper. “The team came out and fought hard. They got down a little bit early, but they continued to fight and scrap and crawl until the end. That’s what they have been known for all year, why we have such a great fan following, and why I’m so proud.”
In her final game in a Hawkeye uniform, senior Megan Blank shined, breaking or tying four school records and notching her 19th multiple-hit game of the season. The Culver City, California, native went 3-for-4 at the dish with three doubles and two runs scored. Blank raised her season average to .442 to break her own single season batting average record of .437 set in 2013. Her performance also raised her career average to .410, breaking Iowa’s 18-year-old career batting average record of .409 (Lea Twigg, 1996-97). Blank also tied Iowa’s school record for doubles in a game with three (Alicia Gerlach vs. Michigan in 1999 and Christy Herbert vs. Purdue in 1997), and matched Iowa’s single season doubles record with 20 (Liz Dennis 2002). The feat also ranks 12th all-time in Big Ten history.
“This whole weekend has been awesome,” said Blank. “Every single game I never felt like we were out of it. To end my career on a note like this means the world.”
“This whole weekend has been awesome for us,” said redshirt junior Holly Hoffman. “Before the tournament we talked about sending Megan off on a good note. We didn’t want to lose the first round, because Megan deserved more than that. The team worked hard. There wasn’t a moment where we felt like we were going to lose any game. It was really important for us to send Megan off on a good note.”
Blank was also named to the all-tournament team along with redshirt sophomore hurler Shayla Starkenburg.
The Huskers got the bats going early, recording four straight hits in the top of the first — three of which were long balls — to take an early 4-0 lead.
Iowa fought back, plating three runs in the bottom of the inning. Sophomore Claire Fritsch led it off with a single to left. After a fielder’s choice, Blank sent the 61st double of her career down the right field line to put runners on second and third for Hoffman. The redshirt junior capitalized on the RBI opportunity with a single to right. Sophomore Kaitlyn Mullarkey followed with a walk, before freshman Allie Wood plated a run with a walk. Junior Erin Erickson added a third run on a groundout to put Iowa within one run of the Huskers, 4-3.
The Huskers tacked on to their lead in the second, third, and fourth innings. Nebraska plated a run in the second on a double and an RBI single to right before plating three in the third on two singles and three walks. The Huskers scored their final run in the top of the fourth on a walk, fielder’s choice, and an RBI double to left center.
The Iowa comeback effort continued in the fifth. Blank led off the inning with her third double of the night. Hoffman followed with a single through the left side, before Mullarkey plated a run with a single of her own to put runners on first and second for Allie Wood. The freshman came through with a two-run double to right to narrow the Husker lead to three runs, 9-6.
The Hawkeyes put the leadoff runner on in the sixth and seventh innings, but could not come up with a hit.
Starkenburg (17-23) took the loss in the circle. The Ankeny, Iowa, native allowed nine earned runs on 10 hits. She walked six and struck out four.
Blank and Hoffman registered multiple-hit performances for the Hawkeyes. Blank went 3-for-4 with three doubles and two runs scored, while Hoffman went 2-for-4 with two singles, an RBI, and a run scored. Wood plated three runs in the contest – her seventh multiple RBI performance of the season – going 1-for-3 with a double and a walk.
Four Hawkeyes hit .300 or better in Big Ten Tournament action including Blank (.545), Repole (.500), Hoffman (.400), and Fritsch (.364).
The Hawkeyes end the season with a 19-40 record and advanced to the Big Ten Tournament semifinals for the first time since 2008.
“Coaches guide and lead, but players are the ones who go,” said Looper. “That’s why they did what they did this weekend. At this point in the season it’s about them doing what they have prepared for all year long. That’s why we are where we are right now. It’s because of their efforts and their charge to help change the culture of this program, and help get it back to the glory days.”
Blank finished her career ranked in the top 10 all-time at Iowa in 10 statistical categories:
? Career runs scored: 130, 5th all-time
? Career hits: 253, tied for 5th all-time with Christy Hebert (94-97)
? Career doubles: 63, school record holder
? Career triples: 13, tied for 2nd all-time with Kristin Johnson (00-03) and Lynda Schlueter (86-89)
? Career home runs: 27, 4th all-time
? Career RBI: 153, 2nd all-time (Kari Knopf holds the record with 163)
? Hits in a season: 76, ties for 10th all-time (Kari Knopf, Emily Nichols)
? Doubles in a season: 20, ties the school record (Liz Dennis, 2002)
? Home runs in a season: 9, ties for 8th all-time
? Doubles in a game: 3, ties the individual single game record (Alicia Gerlach, Michigan, 1999, Christy Herbert, Purdue, 1997)
|Nebraska 9, Iowa 6||1||2||3||4||5||6||7||R||H||E|
|W: Lockman (NEB) 18-12|
|L: Starkenburg (IOWA) 17-23|