Cyclones to challenge No. 3 Texas


Photo: Tim Reuter/Iowa State Daily

Infielder Cassie Knutson attempts to tag a Drake opponent out at second base. Drake lost to Iowa State with a score of 8-6.

Darrin Cline

A 34-4 record, a 17-1 record at home and a No. 3 national ranking.

The Texas Longhorns are not only an elite power in college softball, they are also next on the schedule for the Iowa State Cyclones.

The Longhorns come in atop the conference standings at 7-0 in Big 12 play. Iowa State (19-17, 1-5) has seen its season rebound with two wins over the Drake Bulldogs this past week, including a dramatic win at home thanks to a walk-off home run from Tori Torrescano.

“We’re going to have to be together,” said Cyclone shortstop Sara Davison. “We’ve got talent, but we all have to be together if we want to compete with them.”

Texas’ team credits are astounding, but they are made possible by the contributions of outstanding individual efforts. Two Longhorn players have been nominated for the 2011 USA Softball Player of the Year.

Sophomore pitcher Blaire Luna and junior first baseman Lexy Bennett have been selected as two of the 25 finalists for the award. Luna stands atop the Longhorn rotation with a 20-2 record, 11 shutouts and an astounding 0.98 ERA.

“They do have two very good pitchers, and you do have to take it one pitch at a time, one at-bat at a time,” said ISU coach Stacy Gemeinhardt-Cesler, in regard to the improvements her team made during the two games against Drake this week. “We’ve had a few hitters who have made adjustments and were able to progress and not get down.”

Bennett has been equally impressive from the plate, putting up 53 hits, scoring 47 runs and holding a conference best .465 batting average.

Even without these two stars, the Longhorns are an imposing squad. Pitcher Rachel Fox is 14-1 with a 1.15 ERA. Offensively, Brejae Washington and Taylor Hoagland have each added more than 30 runs on the season.

Iowa State may be prime position to surprise the top five opponent. On Wednesday night, the Longhorns were stunned by 10-28 Stephen F. Austin, 1-0.

All four of the team’s losses have come when they score less than five runs, with three of them coming in games in which the Longhorns failed to manage more than two runs.

“Anybody in the Big 12, whether they are fourth in the country or 24th, everybody is good, and you have to go in with the same approach,” Gemeinhardt-Cesler said. 

If the Cyclones’ pitching staff can go pitch-for-pitch with the dynamic rotation of the opposition, the games could fall on the shoulders of the offense to make the difference.

“Our pitching had an off week until Tuesday, but they all need to do their part, and the defense needs to get behind them and get outs where we can,” Davison said.

Rachel Zabriskie is expected to lead the charge. The Austin, Texas, native will make her final trip to her hometown as a Cyclone. Zabriskie is recognized as an all-time ISU great, but has never defeated the Longhorns during her career.

“It feels good and sad at the same time,” Zabriskie said. “I get the chance to play in my home city and that’s exciting, and there will be lots of people there to cheer me on.”

The first game of the weekend will begin at 1 p.m. Saturday, followed by a noon first pitch Sunday.