Pitcher Denali Loecker off to strong start for Iowa softball

The sophomore has a 6-0 record in the circle this season, while also maintaining a .314 batting average.


Casey Stone

Iowa utility player Denali Loecker swings at the ball during the Iowa Softball senior game against Illinois on May 16, 2021 at Bob Pearl Field. Iowa defeated Illinois 4-3.

Ben Palya, Sports Reporter

Denali Loecker was consistently told that she was not cut out to pitch for a college softball team. So, the Iowa softball sophomore set out to do just that.

Loecker took those words to heart and started to work with a pitching coach in high school to get her to the next level.

“When someone tells me I can’t do something, I want to do it more and prove them wrong,” Loecker said. “That was the main thing that pushed me forward and helped me get to where I am.”

In 2021, Iowa had a 2.00 ERA between its three pitchers — third-best in the Big Ten. The Hawkeyes had a stacked pitching room of seniors Allison Doocy, Lauren Shaw, and Sarah Lehman.

So, Loecker did not have a place in the circle in 2021. She was the Hawkeyes’ featured first baseman, playing 43 games with a .322 batting average.

Now, with all three of those pitchers graduated, Loecker and senior Breanna Vasquez — who transferred from University of Central Florida — have led Iowa softball’s new-look pitching room.

Loecker got limited pitching reps in practice in 2020-21, but she made consistent strides in the circle during the Hawkeyes’ 2021 fall season. Iowa’s fall games and spring prep made for a seamess transition for Loecker this season, she said.

Iowa softball has had ups and downs during the first weeks of nonconference play, compiling a 9-4 record. But Loecker has been a bright spot for the Hawkeyes on both sides of play.

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Loecker has a 6-0 record with 10 appearances in the circle for Iowa. She currently leads the Hawkeyes with a 1.27 ERA, allowing just ten earned runs.

Her pitching style does not produce as many strikeouts as Vasquez. Loecker is second on Iowa’s roster with 18 strikeouts, while Vasquez has 33 on the 2022 season.

But in her 44 innings pitched, Loecker has barely allowed an extra-base hit. Just three batters have managed a double against Loecker, and she’s allowed one triple and no home runs.

“It’s really exciting, and it is really nice having such a strong defense behind me,” Loecker said. “I only have a couple main pitches I throw, so the strikeouts are not my main thing.”

In addition to her strong start on the mound, Loecker has continued to be one of the Hawkeyes’ best bats. She has a .314 batting average in 35 at-bats. She has the fifth-highest number of at-bats this season on Iowa’s roster, despite splitting her time between being a pitcher and a position player.

Loecker has one home run and six RBIs on the season.

For Loecker to be successful both pitching and hitting this season, she’s come into practice early and spent extra time on prep. The hard work and focus have allowed her to succeed early in the season, head coach Renee Gillispie said.

“She’s just a hard worker, she comes out and takes care of business,” Gillispie said. “She’s very focused on what she wants and knows what she needs to get done each day at practice.”

Loecker and the Hawkeyes will head into their fourth weekend of action with three games at the Blues City Classic in Memphis, Tennessee. Iowa opens the weekend with an 11:30 a.m. game against Indiana State, before taking on Memphis at 6:30 p.m.

The Black and Gold will finish the weekend against Butler on Saturday. Friday’s game against Memphis will be available to stream on ESPN+, while the Hawkeyes’ other two contests can be streamed on FloSoftball.