Softball hosts Illini as first Big Ten home game


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Iowa softball will open its home Big Ten schedule today when Illinois comes to Pearl Field for a 5 p.m. double-header. Today’s games will be the first since dominating a home-opening twin bill with South Dakota on March 22.

Illinois (18-8, 3-0) sits a half-game behind Northwestern for first place in the Big Ten after downing Penn State twice last week and soundly beating Michigan State at home on March 29. The quick start is the best ever by an Illinois squad, which boasts reigning USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Week Danielle Zymkowitz; she went 8-for-8 in the Illini’s sweep of Penn State and slugging well over 1.000.

“The thing that’s always been consistent at Illinois is that they’re a really good offensive team,” Iowa head coach Gayle Blevins said. “They do not get cheated; they swing their bats, and they’ll stay aggressive.”

The Hawkeyes (27-7, 1-1) split their first two conference games at No. 15 Ohio State last weekend after a March 25 loss at Illinois State snapped a nine game win streak.

The March 28 game with Ohio State was all defense until a late offensive push by the Buckeyes plated three runs in the bottom of the sixth. Senior Brittany Weil (13-6) took the loss after pitching her 14th complete game of season. She allowed three earned runs on seven hits, while striking out seven batters. Ohio State’s Kim Reeder allowed just one hit on the afternoon when Iowa’s Katie Brown singled in the fourth.

Iowa rallied in Game Two on Sunday by routing the Buckeyes, 12-4, to claim its first victory of the year over a ranked foe. Iowa pitcher Amanda Zust improved her record to 14-1 with the help of an offensive clinic put on by the Hawkeyes’ offense.

Chelsey Carmody, Taylor Leichsenring, and Liz Watkins each had three hits for Iowa. Brown and Colleen McGlaughlin added two hits each en route to the team amassing a season-high 16 hits.

“I’m just going out there really aggressively,” McGlaughlin said, “making sure to swing hard and swing early in the count.”

McGlaughlin continued her blistering RBI pace by tacking four more RBIs onto her conference leading total on Sunday. She now leads the Big Ten with 34 RBIs, five ahead of Ohio State catcher Sam Marder in second.

Junior Lindsey Digmann has provided a spark since rejoining the lineup against South Dakota. Digmann, an outfielder from Marion, is leading the team in batting average (.467) and on-base percentage (.500) through her first five starts after being sidelined early in the season by a torn tendon in the thumb of her non-throwing hand.

“I think getting in there and getting some live [game action] against South Dakota helped me a lot heading into Ohio State,” she said. “I’m comfortable with where I’m at right now, and I should only get stronger as the season goes on.”

Weil closed out the game, pitching 11⁄3 innings in relief of Zust and collecting two more strikeouts. She now sits just 21 shy of Lisa Birroci’s career mark of 946 Ks set in 2005. Weil was drafted by the Akron Racers after pitching the first two no-hitters of her career early in the season. She was also named Big Ten Pitcher of the Week on Feb. 23 for the sixth time in her career and currently boasts the fourth lowest ERA in the Big Ten at 1.14. Zust sits three slots behind Weil at seventh in conference ERA (1.39). The duo combined for the seventh best combined ERA in the nation a year ago.

The Hawkeyes climbed to No. 24 in the ESPN/USA Softball poll last week and are also receiving votes in the USA Today/National Fastpitch Coaches Association poll.

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