IOWA CITY – Iowa catcher Liz Watkins is hitting the ball so well, she’s starting to confuse softball with other sports.
“They’re coming in like volleyballs right now,” said the freshman from Taylor Ridge, Ill.
Softballs may look like volleyballs to Watkins, but they’re leaving the ballpark like golf balls.
Watkins drilled her seventh home run this season Tuesday, a two-run shot that paced Iowa (30-9) to a 7-1 rout over in-state rival Iowa State (19-21) at Pearl Field. Watkins entered the game with a .634 slugging percentage. That’s no doubt increasing after her fifth-inning home run and a fourth-inning double. She scored one run, and a pinch runner scored following her double.
With Iowa leading 3-0, Watkins effectively ended the game with her rocket shot that sailed over the right-field fence.
“I just try to never get cheated out of an at-bat, and I knew I was down in the count,” Watkins said. “But it only takes one pitch. That’s the mentality I like to use.”
Watkins said she was a dead-pull hitter in high school but since has made efforts to hit to the opposite field. That has won her points with Coach Gayle Blevins, who calls her “coachable.”
“I keep telling her whatever you’re eating, just keep eating it,” Blevins said. “It doesn’t matter, keep you bat warm, keep sleeping with your bat, whatever it is.
“She keeps things real simple. If you listen to her you talk to her, she doesn’t make it any bigger than what it is. She isn’t up there trying to hit the ball out. She’s up there trying to get a quality at-bat.”
Iowa took a 2-0 lead in the fourth when Watkins led off with a double. First baseman Katie Brown also doubled, scoring a run. Brown went to third on a passed ball and later scored on a Missy Mazur single.
Iowa’s Taylor Leichsenring scored Iowa’s third run in the wildest fashion. She reached first base on a throwing error from Iowa State’s Katie Keim. As the ball caromed past the base and up the right-field line, Leichsenring sprinted around the bases and scored easily.
“The first thing I was thinking was. ‘Oh my gosh, I hope it’s not a close play (at the plate),’” Leichsenring said. “But it ended up not being (close). I was just running. That was the only thing I was thinking about, just get home.”
Iowa pitcher Amanda Zust (16-2) tossed six shut-out innings before struggling in the seventh. She walked the first two batters, then hit the next batter. After Zust gave up a fielder’s choice and a single, Blevins brought in Brittany Weil to close it.
Zust struck out three, walked three and allowed four hits. Rachel Zabriskie took the loss for Iowa State, giving up 10 hits and striking out one.
Eight girls with local ties played in the game, including two Linn-Mar girls, one from Clear Creek-Amana and one from Xavier. Four girls from Solon also competed.
For Iowa State, Solon’s combination of Kelsey Kidwell and Heidi Kidwell each went 0 for 4. Linn-Mar’s Katie Harms went 1-for-3 with an RBI for the Cyclones, while Xavier’s Renae Cooper had a hit in her only at-bat.
For Iowa, Linn-Mar’s Lindsey Digmann had one hit in four at-bats. Solon’s Quinn Morelock walked in her only at-bat, while Solon native Jenny Schuelke tripled in a run and later scored on a wild pitch. Leichsenring, who’s from Amana, had a hit to go along with her bases-clearing jaunt.