by Jill Price
March 16, 2014, IOWA CITY, Iowa (ISN) – Trailing Texas by five runs in the top of the seventh inning in a bases loaded situation, senior third baseman Michelle Zoeller hit full count, grand slam over the right center field fence to regain the lead for the Hawkeyes, 6-5. The eventual game-winning hit was the first grand slam of her career.
“I just wanted to get a hit,” Zoeller said. “I was thinking, ‘I don’t want be the first out.’ The bases were loaded, and I was looking for something that was my pitch because the pitcher had to come to me so she didn’t walk someone in. I just tried to stay calm, see the ball, and poke something through that could at least score the runner at third.”
Iowa improved to 5-11 with the win, while Texas drops to 17-14. The series is now even, as the Longhorns won the first game, 9-1 in five innings, on Saturday.
After trading zeroes with the Longhorns in the first, the Hawkeyes erased the zero in their scoring column in the top of the second. Zoeller opened the inning with her first triple of the season and the fourth of her career. Alyssa Navarro laid down a perfect squeeze bunt to score Zoeller and reach on a fielder’s choice. Navarro earned the second RBI of her Iowa career on the play.
A Claire Fritsch fielder’s choice and a Brianna Luna hit by pitch followed to load up the bases, but the Longhorns ended the Iowa push with a strikeout and a groundout.
Iowa retired the Longhorns in order in the bottom of the second with a pair of groundouts fielded by shortstop Megan Blank and a Shayla Starkenburg strikeout, but Texas reached the scoring column in the bottom of the third. A pair of walks and a fielder’s choice put runners on the corners for Texas with one away, and the Longhorns used a single — the team’s first hit of the contest — to tie the game. With its second consecutive single, Texas plated two runs and jumped ahead 3-1.
After stranding a runner in scoring position in the fifth, the Hawkeyes cut the deficit in half in the top of the sixth. Navarro, Holly Hoffman, and Fritsch drew consecutive two-out walks to load the bases. Luna reached on an error, allowing Navarro to touch home.
The Longhorns used a strikeout to end the Hawkeye scoring threat, and extended their lead in the bottom half of the sixth scoring two runs on four consecutive singles.
Trailing Texas 5-2 with three outs remaining, the Iowa offense came charging back. A Blank single, Massey walk, and Whitney Repole hit by pitch loaded the bases for Zoeller who ripped a grand slam to push Iowa ahead, 6-5.
The full count hit proved to be the game winner as the Hawkeye defense held the Longhorns scoreless in the bottom of the seventh. Texas drew a leadoff walk and Iowa brought pitcher Micaela Whitney on in relief. A bunt single and a sacrifice bunt moved the Longhorn runners to second and third, but Whitney forced a fly out and struck the final batter of the game to earn her first save of the season and the second of her career.
Shayla Starkenburg (2-2) earned her second win in the circle for the Hawkeyes. She allowed eight hits and five runs in her six innings pitched, and struck out three. Whitney threw the final inning of the game, limited Texas to one hit and collected one strikeout.
Zoeller paced the Iowa offense going 2-for-4 with a triple and a grand slam. She collected a season-high four RBI and scored twice in the contest. Also posting hits for the Hawkeyes were Erin Erickson (1-for-3) and Blank (1-for-4).
“We had a keep after it mentality today,” head coach Marla Looper said. “We were able to get a run across in the sixth and in the seventh we got deeper into counts. We were patient and found a way to get on base. Then Michelle came up clutch. It was huge. She didn’t try for too much, just got to contact, and she provided some power. It was nice to see that ball get out of the park.”
Iowa and Texas plays the final game of the series on Monday evening. First pitch is slated for 7 p.m. (CT). Links to live stats and the live stream are available on the softball schedule page at hawkeyesports.com. The game will also be aired live on the Longhorn Network.