Cyclones search for conference win

Darrin Cline

To this point, the 2011 softball season has been largely forgettable for Iowa State and Kansas. The Cyclones (19-20, 1-7 Big 12) and Jayhawks (28-19, 1-13) will square off in Ames this weekend.

Both teams have struggled in the Big 12 and are looking to crawl out of the conference cellar. The Jayhawks have picked up a single conference victory, topping Texas Tech, 9-5. Since that point, the Jayhawks have lost five straight and are 1-11 in the month of April.

“It has always been good competition between Kansas and us so I’m looking forward to a good game and hopefully coming out with a better outcome than we have lately,” said Cyclone outfielder Heidi Kidwell.

Iowa State’s April has not gone much smoother. The Cyclones’ most recent loss came Wednesday against rival Iowa.

The Hawkeyes pulled out a 4-3 win, but it gave the Cyclones a perspective on the rest of the year.

“We need to start new like this is a new half of the season,” said second baseman Erin Johnson. “The coaches are always telling us that we can pick up wherever we are and win out the rest of the games if we really want to.”

The Cyclones hold a 3-9 mark thus far in April, but are 0-6 in conference play. Since back-to-back thrashings at the hands of Texas Tech, the team’s defense has improved, allowing four runs per game during a five-game stretch.

Rachel Zabriskie continues to handle a bulk of the work from the mound, making 27 starts this season. While her ERA, 3.77, and win-loss record, 12-14, have steadily eroded, her ability to guide the defense has kept the games manageable.

Offensively, the Cyclone women have struggled in recent weeks to match their defensive fire. The team last scored double-digit runs April 7 against Minnesota, but have been held to five or fewer runs in six of seven games since.

“We just need to get our minds set on what we can do and not what we have been doing,” Kidwell said. “We didn’t hit as well as we should have against Iowa and [Thursday] in practice hitting is what we need to focus on.”

Kansas has been hobbled by its own offensive struggles. Three of its last five losses have come via shutout. The Jayhawk women have put up more than five runs only twice in their last 18 outings.

Brittany Hile and Liz Kocon provided much if the Jayhawk power early in the season. They have 13 and 12 home runs on the season, respectively. However, no Kansas hitter has more than three home runs in conference play.

Both teams will be looking to the weekend as a chance to improve in the conference. As one-win teams battling amongst perhaps the toughest softball conference in college, the Jayhawks and Cyclones each have a point to prove and neither wants the denotation as the “cellar dweller.”

“We can definitely win the rest, we’ve shown that we can play with any of the teams,” Johnson said. “We know we can play with them as long as we come out with confidence.”

The first half of the two game series will begin at 4 p.m. Friday at the Southwest Athletic Complex in Ames.