Two weeks ago, the Iowa softball team lost four of its last five games heading in to Big Ten play. They were outscored 7-0 in back-to-back losses before their first conference series.
But things have turned around.
The Hawkeyes (9-15, 4-2 Big Ten) have since won their first two Big Ten series, are third place in the conference, and only two games out of first. Coach Marla Looper’s squad will attempt to continue to push forward with their home opener at 6 p.m. today at Pearl Field against Drake, followed by a three-game series with Northwestern beginning Friday.
“The girls haven’t settled in to losing; that’s part of the turnaround,” Looper said Tuesday. “The second part of the turnaround is that they’re finally executing the things we’ve implemented. They believe in the preparation. They worked hard in the off-season, hard in our preseason prior to playing. The result has not been because of lack of preparation. It’s because of lack of execution at times. We’ve been close — it’s not a mile-long gap, it’s inches and centimeters.”
Two series wins over Illinois March 21-22 and Wisconsin last weekend have jumpstarted the Hawkeyes. Iowa also may be primed for the stretch run in the Big Ten because its non-conference schedule included several high-tier programs.
Five of Iowa’s 15 losses have come to teams ranked in the USA Today/National Fastpitch Coaches Association Top 25 poll, were ranked, or are receiving votes. An additional two defeats were to Texas, who is currently 20-15.
No cupcakes there.
“For us to be the best, we have to play the best,” Looper said. “We start beating those teams, and that allows us to better our program and ourselves. You don’t want to get a million wins in the (non-conference) and then you get to conference and you can’t compete because you don’t know how.
“It’s not like we’ve coasted through and not done anything. We’ve competed, but have just been a little shy.”
Megan Blank and Kayla Massey have been mainstays in the starting lineup since 2012, Looper’s second season at the helm. The duo is setting the course for the Black and Gold this spring, too.
Blank is at the top of the stat sheet, hitting at a .366 clip with a home run, 12 RBIs, and 13 runs scored. Massey has a team-leading four home runs while also making 14 starts in the pitching circle. The senior is 5-9 with a 2.50 ERA in 92.1 innings. She has struck out 47 and walked 31.
Additionally, Michelle Zoeller has seven doubles and 11 RBIs, Erin Erickson has connected for two home runs, and Brianna Luna is hitting .294 in 11 games.
Looper is confident the success can be long term.
“We had to shore things up offensively, defensively, and in the circle,” Looper said. “And when you do, even if you get one piece at a time, that’s going to make us better. If we can get all the pieces together, there are not too many people that can stop us.”