Failing to take care of the little things proved to be a big problem for the Iowa softball team Sunday.
The Hawkeyes dropped two routine fly balls that led to three runs and helped Wisconsin hold on for 5-4 victory at Pearl Field.
Wisconsin right fielder Marissa Mersch hit a fly ball in the top of the second inning that Iowa leftfielder Ashley Akers lost in the sun with two outs. The ball scraped off Akers’ glove and fell to ground allowing the Badgers to score the game’s first two runs.
In the top of the seventh, Wisconsin’s Stephanie Spence popped up just beyond shortstop. Iowa shortstop Megan Blank was camped under the ball when she and centerfielder Johnnie Dowling collided after Dowling had raced in from the outfield. That caused the ball to drop to the ground, allowing the Badgers to score their fifth run.
Iowa had scored three runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to trim the deficit to one run.
“Johnnie was trying to be aggressive and come get it,” said second-year Iowa coach Marla Looper. “I don’t think she heard Megan screaming that she had it underneath it.
“It’s one of those things, you teach them to be aggressive and sometimes it bites you in the rear. At that point, it did. It’s just unfortunate we couldn’t take care of the ball today.”
The loss dropped Iowa’s records to 11-17 overall and 1-2 in the Big Ten. The teams split a doubleheader Saturday with Wisconsin winning the first game 1-0 and Iowa prevailing in the second by a 4-3 margin.
Asked what her message was to her team after Sunday’s loss, Looper said:
“The biggest thing is taking care of the little things. It’s all little things. It’s nothing different than what we talk about every week.
“It’s not rocket science. It’s not putting a new formula together. It’s taking care of the ball and playing the game the way it’s supposed to be played and respecting it and taking care of the ball and just getting back at it.”
The good news for Looper is she now has five days to stress the little things in practice before Iowa’s game Saturday against Illinois at Pearl Field.
“I’m anxious to get a week of practice in,” Looper said. “We haven’t gotten a full week in since we started playing.”
Iowa already has played 10 ranked opponents this season, but it didn’t pay dividends against the unranked Badgers on Sunday.
“They don’t need to be reminded,” Looper said. “They do know they’ve put in the hay in the barn and it’s time to start reaping those benefits.”
Senior first baseman Katie Keim finally ignited Iowa’s offense in the bottom of the sixth inning by smacking a three-run home run that just stayed fair.
She also came to the plate in the bottom of the seventh with two outs and with Iowa trailing 5-4. Keim fouled off several pitches before grounding out to the pitcher to end the game.
“I think this whole week of practice will actually be really good for us,” Keim said.
Keim credited her teammates for helping her prepare for the off-speed pitch that turned into her fourth home run on the season.
“I was expecting a change-up,” Keim said. “She had been fooling me a little bit. I had been ahead on them.
“But I have to give 100 percent to my team. They called it before the pitch and I was able to wait back on it and hit it hard.”
Reach Pat Harty at 339-7368 or email@example.com
WISCONSIN 5, IOWA 4
Wisconsin 020 020 1 – 5 8 0
Iowa 000 003 1 – 4 10 1
Cassandra Darrah and Maggie Strange. Chelsea Lyon, Kayla Massey (6) and Liz Watkins. 2B – Marrisa Mersch (W). 3B – Melanie Gladden (I). HR – Katie Keim (I).