March 29, 2013
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Softball pitchers live with a simple philosophy: The opponent can't win if it doesn't score runs.
Kayla Massey, a junior for the University of Iowa, has done her best to emphasize that attitude by winning 36 times in her collegiate career. Last spring she was named First Team All-Big Ten pitcher after compiling a record of 15-11 with a 2.04 earned run average -- fourth among all league hurlers.
If Massey allows two runs a game, the Hawkeyes need to find a way to plate three. On paper, it is simple mathematics, but on the diamond it sometimes seems like an unsolvable riddle. This season Massey is putting more of the outcome in her hands by picking up a bat as an offensive threat in the batter's box.
In 29 games, Massey is batting .368 with three doubles, five home runs and 21 runs batted in.
"I love being able to help myself when I'm pitching," Massey said. "I love helping my team any way I can. Batting seems to help everybody, so I might as well step up."
Massey has recorded seven multi-hit games and four multiple-RBI games. She has hit safely in 23-of-28 games in which she has batted, and reached base in 25. She has reached base in 17-straight contests entering the weekend, and is riding an 11-game hitting streak.
Being a hitter is nothing new for Massey, but for her first two seasons, the Hawkeyes had just two pitchers in the rotation -- Massey and senior Chelsea Lyon. The addition of freshman Micaela Whitney (2-0, 3.13 ERA) gives the UI more depth in the circle, and it gives head coach Marla Looper more peace of mind seeing one of her aces racing around the base paths.
As a freshman, Massey was hitless in four at bats; as a sophomore she was 11-for-53 (.208) with eight RBIs.
Massey has played with a throw-first, swing-second attitude before. She stopped batting as a junior in high school to focus on pitching. But last summer she worked in the cage and hit off live pitching while playing for a 23-and-under fast pitch travel team, a team that included another Hawkeye, Megan Blank.
Once back in Iowa City, Massey worked with assistant coach Stacy May-Johnson on keeping her feet steady and her base grounded.
"I think of hitting and pitching completely different," Massey said. "I focus very hard on my pitching, and I have a set plan for everything. For batting, I'm so excited to bat that it's just extra for me."
Massey graduated from Trabuco Hills (Calif.) High School, where she was named an ESPN third-team All-American as a senior after posting a 0.32 ERA with 250 strikeouts. Softball has always been her game of choice aside from dabbling in other sports in elementary school, activities Massey joked that she quit because "they made me run too much."
On her official visit to the UI, Massey saw snow for the first time and mistook it for hail. She refused to join Lyon, her host, on a trip outside the dormitory to play in the freshly-fallen white stuff. The snow didn't stick, but the impressions the UI left with Massey did.
"I love the community, and I love the support," she said. "I came here and went tailgating for a football game and it was crazy, mind-blowing. I love the school, I love everything about it, I love the coaches."
Massey committed to the UI in 2010, when Hall of Fame head coach Gayle Blevins was putting the finishing touches on her career with a 25-win season. Looper was hired in August, two months after Blevins retired.
"Everybody is kind of hesitant at first (when there is a coaching change)," Massey said. "But once I met them, everything was great."
"When I got the job, I went out and started watching (Massey), and I got to know her parents and got to meet her a little bit," Looper said. "I knew she had the ability."
As a freshman pitcher, Massey was 12-12 with a 3.22 ERA and 110 strikeouts. Last season she improved to 15-11 with a 2.04 ERA and 120 strikeouts. So far this season, Massey is 7-4 with a 2.68 ERA. She has 12 career shutouts.
Coach and player agree that Massey is more valuable to the Hawkeyes in the circle as a pitcher.
"The hitting part has been a huge piece to our offensive production and putting more runs up," Looper said. "But her limiting runs is more important than her putting runs up."
Focus is a word used often to describe Massey's demeanor during games. She blushingly admits that she doesn't "look like a very happy person" when she pitches.
"I get pretty determined and focused on my job at hand," said Massey, who is majoring in sports management with a business emphasis.
Looper praises Massey's grit and determination and ability to challenge hitters.
"She will dare you to hit her ball, and she is going to keep daring you," Looper said. "She will throw her best, even if that's your best location to hit. She doesn't like to back down, she's going to go right at you, and she's going to beat you with her best."