May 5, 2012
"Going into the conference season, the team thought we could contend for the title and the coaches knew we had a shot," said Looper. "Now it is all coming together. We've let some games slip away, but we feel it, see it, and can taste it, a little bit."
Iowa (12-6) heads to Ohio State for its second-to-last Big Ten series, one game behind Michigan (13-5), a half game back of Nebraska (12-5) and Purdue (12-5) and tied with Wisconsin (12-6) in the standings. It is a five team race for the conference title.
Iowa has won its last three Big Ten series to move up the league standings. The Hawkeyes took 2-of-3 against the Cornhuskers on April 14 and 15, swept Michigan State on April 21 and 22 and won 2-of-3 games against Indiana last weekend.
"We know we're in the thick of it, and the best thing is, we know we have to take care of ourselves and not worry about everyone else. Things have to happen, and I think things will happen, but we have to take care of ourselves."
UI head coach Marla Looper
It has been the team's pitching and defense that has spearheaded the ascent up the standings.
"Our pitching and defense has kept us in games until we have been able to score," said Looper. "When we have scored, we've put up more than one run. When that happens, it makes it hard on the other team.
"If we give up a run or two, we continue to battle back. They have the 'never-say-die attitude' at times, and it is fun to see. They are feeding off positive experiences and building on those."
Junior Chelsea Lyon and sophomore Kayla Massey have been dominant during the winning streak. After taking turns being the "ace" of the staff early in the season, the pair has come together simultaneously, posting a 1.78 ERA with three complete game shutouts.
Massey is 4-1 with a 1.30 ERA with two shutouts, allowing seven earned runs over her last 37.2 innings in conference play. She was honored as the Big Ten Co-Pitcher of the Week on April 23. Lyon is 3-1 with a 2.49 ERA with one shutout. She has 21 strikeouts to 12 walks in 25.1 innings of work.
"They're giving themselves an opportunity to succeed in the bullpen, and they're taking that to the field," said Looper. "They're two totally different pitchers, and they're complementing each other.
"When you put them out on the field, the opponent is not seeing the same thing. They counter each other quite a bit, and the defense knows how to play behind both of them."
With each of the final six games playing a pivotal role in earning the Big Ten's automatic berth into NCAA Regionals, Looper is stressing the importance of the Hawkeyes taking care of the controllables.
"We know we're in the thick of it, and the best thing is, we know we have to take care of ourselves and not worry about everyone else," said Looper. "Things have to happen, and I think things will happen, but we have to take care of ourselves."
Today's doubleheader at Buckeye Field is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. (CT). Both games will be televised live on the Big Ten Network, while Sunday's finale will be streamed live at www.BTN.com.