April 14, 2008
Iowa City, IA (UWIRE) -- The Iowa softball team went a long way in keeping its Big Ten title hopes alive by tossing two shutouts against Michigan State and holding No. 14 Northwestern to four runs this weekend.
Northwestern came into Iowa City as one of two teams in front of Iowa (29-13, 6-3) in the standings, and the Wildcats suffered their first conference loss after a 5-2 Hawkeye win in the second game of a double-header on April 13.
"That was important to get a win over them," Iowa coach Gayle Blevins said. "Now we have a win over two teams who are in front of us. We have a win against both Northwestern and Michigan."
Junior pitcher Brittany Weil pitched 242?3 innings in the four games, allowing only two earned runs and striking out 31 hitters.
Iowa defeated Michigan State (20-17, 4-4), 4-0 and 5-0, on April 11 and 12, thanks in large part to Weil and the resurgence of senior Emily Nichols, who notched four hits, a run and an RBI.
"They are a really good hitting team, so I would've anticipated there probably being some runs there on the board," Blevins said, after the April 12 win. "Our pitchers did a really good job, and our defense played solidly behind them. That always gives you a chance to put some goose eggs up there, so that's good."
After only Hawk-eggs on the scoreboard against Michigan State, it was even more pitcher-centered against Northwestern (23-10, 3-1).
Game One against the Wildcats saw balls eluding bats on both sides, as Weil and Northwestern's Lauren Delaney combined for 11 strikeouts and 10 walks in the first three innings.
"Walks come with the game," Weil said. "We were getting squeezed a little bit, but you can't let the umpires dictate how you're going to throw."
The purple punishers collected the first hit of the game in the fourth inning with a lob over Iowa sophomore right fielder Taylor Leichsenring's head for a triple. After a strikeout, a seeing-eye bunt through two chargzzing Hawkeyes gave Northwestern a 1-0 lead. A bunt single and walk loaded the bases before a bloop single added one more run to the tally.
Despite the walks, Blevins left Weil in for the following game, because the junior allowed only four hits and struck out eight.
"I don't care how many walks there were," Blevins said. "Seven, eight, it doesn't matter, because many of those were orchestrated. We were working around some people."
After four innings no-hit ball in Game One, it took just one batter in Game Two as Northwestern led off with a double. A line drive that scooted under freshman Jenny Schuelke's glove in left field then put Iowa in an early 2-0 hole.
But Weil settled down to retire the next three batters via a pair of K's and a pop out.
"I kept talking with [pitching coach Shane Bowman] to make sure she wasn't running out of gas," Blevins said. "I could see sometimes she wasn't finishing off pitches, and that's a sign of where pitchers legs get tired. [Amanda] Zust was ready, she was totally ready to come in, we just felt like we were going to ride [Weil] as far as we could."
Iowa scored its first runs of the day thanks to some shoddy Northwestern play. A bunt single by sophomore Lindsey Digmann and wild throw scored freshman Chelsey Carmody from second. Three straight walks tied the game up and ended Northwestern pitcher Jessica Smith's evening without her collecting an out.
The Hawkeyes then picked up their first lead of the day on a Nichols bases loaded single. The wildness continued with a hit batter forcing in another run, and error by the pitcher scored the Hawkeyes' fifth run of the inning - three of which were earned.
But the hero was Weil, who allowed only one hit the rest of the way en route to victory.
"[Those runs] really lifted our confidence a lot, and it probably even gave a little more energy to Brit," Blevins said. "It certainly takes a little pressure off the defense, and it also gave us options with working [Northwestern's Tammy] Williams, which is what we needed at that point."
(C) 2008 The Daily Iowan via UWIRE