Softball set for home-opener

Iowa softball is set to kick off its home season with a matchup against Western Illinois tonight.


Katina Zentz

Pitcher Donirae Mayhew (24) poses for a portrait during Softball Media Day at the Hawkeye Tennis and Recreation Complex on Friday, February 1, 2019. (Katina Zentz/The Daily Iowan)

Jordan Zuniga, Sports Reporter

One of the worst winters in recent memory seems to have finally waned.

The timing couldn’t be better, because today is Iowa softball’s home-opener. The team will take on Western Illinois at 7 p.m. at Pearl Field.

While it is a regular-season game, it will serve as a warm-up for Iowa’s second Big Ten matchup against Northwestern in a series this weekend.

Iowa is riding high, winning 13 of its last 19 games after starting out 2-5.

It’s certainly an impressive run for first-year coach Renee Gillispie, who — if you ask the players — seems to be implementing a winning culture.

“I’ve had an open mind to everything,” senior Mallory Kilian said. “Right away, the coaching staff reached out to us, which was really helpful, so I got to know them throughout a couple conversations, and they explained what they wanted from us, which was nice.”

The winning attitude seemed to click on Feb. 17 in a game against Massachusetts in which Iowa scored 2 runs in the seventh to break a 3-3 tie and win the game.

“What we saw turn on [Feb. 17] was seeing them believe in themselves,” Gillispie said. “They had a little more swagger. It’s something internally they have to find. The game was in their hands, and they saw they can do everything they need to do to win.”

RELATED: Gillispie gains first conference win

Since then, Gillispie’s squad has gone 13-6. The team’s recent success is owed to another new face for Iowa softball, DoniRae Mayhew.

She transferred to Iowa from Kirkwood after being named the National Fastpitch Coaches Association Player of the Year, along with several other honors.

She hasn’t slowed down against the tougher competition that Iowa faces. Through 26 games this season, she has hit .351 with 3 homers and 16 RBIs, and she leads the team in all three categories.

Of course, like her team, Mayhew didn’t get off to the best start to the season. During the Hawkeyes’ 2-6 start, Mayhew batted .105 (2-for-19).

A 3-for-4 day turned her performance around against Massachusetts, in which she knocked in 3 RBIs and a game-winning home run.

She’s been knocking the stitches off the ball ever since, hitting .436 and failing to get a hit just twice in the past 19 games.

She believes that reps in practice have helped her explode on the scene after the slow start.

“I felt a lot better coming out of practice,” Mayhew said. “Another thing that was huge was my confidence and actually believing that I could do these things.”

Now, the Hawkeyes hope they can carry the nonconference success back home, where they prepare for the gauntlet that is the Big Ten season.

Last season, the Hawkeyes struggled in conference play, finishing just 6-16. However, the players hope their newfound confidence will lead to a better Big Ten run.

“I am excited [about] what our lineup can do,” Kilian said. “We have seen a couple exciting things here and there, but we haven’t put it all together yet. Bringing that into the Big Ten and being able to come together as a lineup and string together hits will be great to see.”