By JAMES GEERDES
Coming into the game with a sub-par 3.59 ERA, Western Illinois starting pitcher Emily Ira (of Iowa City) was not thought to be the Iowa softball team’s biggest challenge on Tuesday night at Pearl Field. That changed, however, as Ira worked a no-hitter through 6.2 innings.
With Iowa’s leading batter Lea Thompsen on the bench, head coach Marla Looper’s squad struggled throughout the evening to find hits.
Both starting pitchers toyed with batters throughout the night. A tight zone led to high pitch counts, but that didn’t stop either hurler from improving their stat lines, and neither team earned a hit until the seventh inning.
Iowa sophomore pitcher Allison Doocy’s 1-hit performance in the circle was overshadowed with just one swing of the bat in the seventh. Western Illinois first baseman Hailey Duwa turned on the first pitch she saw and sent it over the right field fence. The swing put the Leathernecks on top, 1-0, and demanded an answer from the Hawkeyes in the bottom half if Looper’s squad wanted to win.
Devin Cantu was nearly Iowa’s answer in the bottom of the seventh with no outs.
Cantu connected on an outside pitch and sent it toward the right-field wall. Rachel Beatty, who had made a beautiful, running backwards snag in the fourth inning, shone again as she extended toward the top of the wall, squeezed, and made the catch.
With 2 outs in the bottom of the seventh inning, pinch hitter Brooke Rozier laced a double into left-center field to earn Iowa’s first hit with just one out left.
“I just was thinking that I know my job is to be on base,” Rozier said. “In that moment, all we needed was a runner to get the momentum going, which is what happened.”
Her hit was followed with a single up the middle from Angela Schmiederer that scored pinch runner Alex Rath.
“Brooke’s been working hard to get back in the lineup,” Looper said. “We got her an opportunity tonight, and she did a nice job.”
The two-out rally led to the eighth inning, and Looper looked to her bullpen to Lauren Shaw, who took over pitching duties from Doocy. Doocy ended her night allowing just 1 hit while striking out 9.
“Doocy threw a heck of a ballgame,” Looper said. “And it’s unfortunate that we can’t put any runs up to support her in an outing like that.”
The Leathernecks plated a runner in the top of the eighth after Shaw allowed a single and a groundout that advanced the runner. A bunt put the runner on third, and a groundout to shortstop scored her.
Iowa failed to replicate its seventh-inning performance and dropped a 2-1 decision. It was just Iowa’s second loss to Western Illinois in their last 17 meetings.
“It was horrible,” Looper said. “We didn’t do a very good job offensively making the adjustments. We kind of just took our time, and when we had to, we finally did something. We have to be better than that early. That’s a bad mark on our offense tonight.”
Now on a five-game losing streak, Iowa will get a shot at redemption on Friday against a 25-15 Illinois program in a three-game weekend series in Urbana-Champaign.