Hawkeye softball downed by Western Illinois in home-opener

Poor defense and spotty pitching led to a loss in Iowa softball’s home-opener.

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David Harmantas

Iowa pitcher Erin Riding winds up to pitch during a softball game against Western Illinois on Wednesday, Mar. 27, 2019. The Fighting Leathernecks defeated the Hawkeyes 10-1. (David Harmantas/The Daily Iowan)

Jordan Zuniga, Sports Reporter

It was a tough home opener for the Iowa softball team as it fell to Western Illinois, 10-1.

Wounds opened up early for the Hawkeyes — the Leathernecks put up a 5-spot in the second inning.

While pitching certainly shares some blame in the inning, part of it was some fielding mishaps by Iowa.

At the start of the second inning, left fielder Hallie Ketcham dropped a routine fly ball in foul territory.

On the next pitch, the Leathernecks’ Emily Ira ripped a one-out single. A few batters later, Payton Abbott pulverized the ball over the left-field fence for a two-out grand slam.

The Leathernecks added another run later in the inning, but all 5 of those runs never would have crossed the plate had the Hawkeyes made the catch in foul territory at the beginning of the inning.

“This is not the team that we put on the field,” Iowa coach Renee Gillespie said. “Those runners shouldn’t have been on [for the grand slam]. It would’ve been the third out. Those are the things that kill us.”

Fielding hasn’t been Iowa’s strength so far this season — it ranks 165th nationally with a fielding percentage of .956. Mistakes in the field certainly played a part in Iowa’s loss, but inaccurate pitching didn’t help.

Game starter Erin Riding certainly wasn’t helped by the error. But she struggled to put away batters in the first and second innings, using 56 pitches to get the first five outs.

Even worse for Iowa, she had 23 balls to 31 strikes. That led to her giving up 3 walks and a hit-by-pitch. An RBI double by Hailey Duwa had Gillispie pull the hook.

After the game, Riding attributed her rough start to mechanics.

“Just trying to overthrow,” she said. “I was aiming the ball, rather than spinning the ball. You can’t just throw it, you have to spin it.”

It’s a problem that Riding has faced a few times this season. She now has 17 walks in 29.2 innings.

Gillispie replaced Riding with the normally reliable Allison Doocy. She came into the game leading the Hawkeyes in innings pitched (114.1) and ERA (1.47).

But Doocy suffered accuracy issues throughout her 3.1 innings, throwing 30 balls to 42 strikes. But she managed to hold the Leathernecks to 2 runs and chalked up 4 strikeouts.

More trouble brewed for the Hawkeye pitching staff in the top of the sixth inning when Sarah Lehman took over for Doocy. Lehman entered having appeared in only four games for 9 innings with 2 runs allowed.

She didn’t have her best stuff with her, though, and she struggled to get outs in the two innings she pitched.

Seven Leathernecks reached base on 5 hits and 2 walks in the two innings, and she gave up 3 runs — 2 on a Duwa homer.

Despite the struggles, the team isn’t worried about Wednesday night’s performance affecting it in the long run.

“[We just have to] keep it simple,” Gillespie said. “We only had one practice on this field so it felt like another away game. We need more practices on this field.”

Next, Iowa will get that practice when it takes on Northwestern at Pearl Field in a three-game series beginning Friday.

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