Iowa softball takes series against Rutgers, celebrates senior class

The Hawkeyes defeated the Scarlet Knights, 9-6, on Sunday to clinch their third Big Ten series win of the season.


Emily Nyberg

Iowa players cheer for Denali Locker as she runs home after hitting a home run during a softball game between Iowa and Rutgers at Bob Pearl Softball Field in Iowa City on Friday, April 28, 2023. The Scarlet Knights defeated the Hawkeyes, 5-3.

Emma Sachs, Sports Reporter

Iowa softball secured its first 30-win season since 2013 with a 9-6 victory over Rutgers during senior day on Sunday afternoon at Bob Pearl Field. 

The Hawkeyes fell in the series opener, 5-3, on Friday but responded with back-to-back wins to clinch the series against the Scarlet Knights, 2-1. 

This marked Iowa’s third Big Ten series win of the season. Iowa is now 30-22 overall and 10-10 in conference play.

“We have to be able to know that this is our game, no matter what the score is, no matter what happens,” Iowa head coach Renee Gillispie said postgame. “You saw us down a little bit, and then you saw us bounce right back. They’re getting that maturity to be able to come back with any situation, and it was good to see that we’re growing in that aspect. We’re not gonna let anything keep us down.”

How it happened

Senior pitcher Breanna Vasquez, who has over 400 career strikeouts, pitched the first two innings on Sunday and gave up four runs on three hits. Vasquez has started 25 games for the Hawkeyes this season and posts a 2.37 ERA. 

After Vasquez battled out of a bases-loaded jam in the first inning, the Hawkeye offense started fast. Iowa scored five runs on two hits in the bottom of the first frame.

Rutgers kept it close and scored four runs on two hits in the second inning.

The Scarlet Knight’s momentum continued as they tacked on two more runs in the fourth frame against Hawkeye pitcher Devyn Greer to take a 6-5 advantage.  

But Iowa junior Denali Loecker didn’t let Rutgers’ lead last very long. She put Iowa back in front in the bottom of the fourth inning with a two-run shot to deep center field for her ninth home run of the season.

Freshman Jalen Carter came in to pitch in the fifth and sixth innings and allowed zero runs on zero hits.

Loecker sent another ball over the fence with two runners on in the sixth inning but was called out for missing first base. The home run was taken off the score sheet, but she still earned two RBIs, extending Iowa’s lead to 9-6. 

Loecker then came in to close in the seventh inning and retired the side to secure the victory. 

“It’s always good to win on Pearl Field,” Loecker said. “It was a back-and-forth game so we couldn’t really lose any energy in the dugout. We knew that we could still beat them.”

After the game, the Hawkeyes celebrated their seniors — Vasquez, right fielder Nia Carter, and infielder Kalena Burns. 

Carter currently leads the Big Ten, batting .412 with 87 hits. Carter has missed just one game over her Hawkeye career and will be remembered as one of the best offensive players in program history. 

Burns appeared in 112 games over her career but has not played this season because of an unspecified injury. Loecker said Burns is still a leader and has been Iowa’s biggest cheerleader in the dugout. 

Gillispie said what makes these three seniors special is not only their skill level and ability to lead by example but their personalities when they are off the diamond. 

“To see them and the way they’ve grown and the way they’ve matured as leaders has been probably the biggest joy for me to watch,” Gillispie said of the senior class. “Their game is great, I love them as players. But they are just great people, and I know they’re going to be successful and just give back to the community, and that’s what we hope for as coaches.”

Up Next

Iowa will return to Bob Pearl Field on Wednesday to take on Northern Iowa. The first pitch is scheduled for 5 p.m. The Hawkeyes defeated the Panthers last season, 3-2. 

“These seniors, they’re not done yet,” Gillispie said. “We’re really pushing to try to get that regional bid. Their goal is to win the conference championship, and we have to continue to play better and get better every game going into that conference tournament in order to have that happen.”