What a difference a month and a half makes.
The Iowa softball team defeated Drake easily Feb. 16, recording a season-best 16 hits in a 9-0 win. In Wednesday night’s home opener at Pearl Field, the Hawkeyes (9-16) fell 5-3 to the Bulldogs (8-22), a team that heading into Wednesday’s contest lost six of its last seven games.
Drake didn’t play like a team that was reeling.
“Drake’s a different ballclub, we knew that going in,” Iowa coach Marla Looper said. “They struggled early. They had some injuries, and other things to work through. … We have to do a better job of taking care of us when it comes down to it, and we didn’t do a good job of that tonight.”
Drake struck first with three runs on three hits in the top of the second inning off of Iowa starter Shayla Starkenburg. The Bulldogs pushed a run across in the third as well, and had runners on second and third and only one out when Looper made a change in the pitching circle.
Kayla Massey replaced Starkenburg, and Massey promptly struck out back-to-back batters to stymie Drake’s potential big inning.
Back-to-back doubles by Brianna Luna and Claire Fritsch to lead off the bottom half of the third gave the Hawkeyes their first run. Megan Blank’s sacrifice fly two batters later narrowed the deficit to 4-2. In the fourth, Blank recorded another RBI with a single through the right side of the infield to score Fritsch. Blank finished 1-of-2 and now is hitting a team-leading .370 on the season.
Iowa and Drake had the same amount of hits — nine — but the Hawkeyes weren’t able to accumulate a big inning. They also committed three errors. The Bulldogs didn’t have any errors, while Looper’s squad also left nine runners on base.
“I thought we had energy, it was more of a focus and attitude and effort kind of thing,” Blank said. “At some point, if we’re not getting the best hops, we have to grit it out and say, ‘Who cares?’ We need to do what we need to do to get the job done.”
Massey recorded a pair of zeros in the fourth and fifth before Laura Brewer’s RBI single down the right field line pushed Drake’s advantage to 5-3 in the sixth. Brewer was one of two players to record multihit games for Drake, going 3-of-4.
Blank noted Drake’s response after the loss earlier this spring.
“They took that loss earlier in the season personally and came back with more aggression,” Blank said. “We need to keep in mind that we can’t treat them like we beat them 9-0. We have to treat them like any other team.”
As the final out was recorded, there were simply too many mistakes to overcome.
That will need to change quickly. Iowa enters a three-game series with Northwestern (19-8, 3-3 Big Ten) beginning Friday.
“One thing leads to another, and unfortunately we didn’t stop the bleeding when we needed to,” Looper said.