Three Big Takeaways: Ochoa helps Iowa State continue Cy-Hawk streak


Tyler Coe

Iowa State defeats Iowa 7-4 in Iowa City on Apr. 26, 2023.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Malaysia Ochoa was expecting an 0-1 fastball from Iowa’s Breanna Vasquez, and she got just that.

The Iowa State junior drove a three-run home run to give Iowa State the lead against in-state rival Iowa Wednesday evening. Iowa State held the lead and finished ahead of the Hawkeyes 7-4.

“I got a first-pitch changeup, so I was looking for something harder to throw me off,” Ochoa said postgame. “I told myself to get my barrel out. I was able to get my barrel out to that pitch, and it went.”

In Ochoa’s second at-bat, she launched her 11th home run of the season to right center field and gave the Cyclones insurance runs in the process. In total, Cyclone hitters tallied ten hits as they continued their late-season push.

Iowa State has now won six of its last eight games and four in a row in the Iowa Corn CyHawk Series.

Ochoa’s go-ahead home run

Ochoa’s go-ahead home run came against the Iowa starter and fifth-year senior Vasquez. The Hawkeye ace made quick work of the Iowa State hitters in the first and second innings. The second time through the order, Iowa State’s offense emerged.

Vasquez entered the matchup with a 1.96 earned run average and has a total of 129 strikeouts in her 132.1 innings pitched.

Ochoa, the Cyclone leadoff hitter, took the plate with Alesia Ranches and Natalie Wellet on base. In the first scoring opportunity for Iowa State, head coach Jamie Pinkerton had exactly who he wanted coming to the plate.

Ochoa faced Vasquez in fall games and in Iowa State’s matchup with Iowa last season.

Ochoa drove the 0-1 pitch to left-center field and gave Iowa State the 3-2 lead.

Ochoa had three home runs for Iowa State before she took over in the leadoff spot April 1 against Texas Tech. Hitting first comes naturally for the Chino, California native. She batted first in high school and batted up and down the lineup in three years with the Cyclones.

She has ignited offensively this season for eight home runs since a conversation with her head coach led to her new spot in the lineup.

Ochoa now has as many home runs in the 2023 season as her first two seasons in college softball combined. The outfielder recorded seven home runs in her freshman year and four in her sophomore season.

During Iowa State’s late-season push, Ochoa has been leading by example, Pinkerton said.

“She’s a captain for a reason,” Pinkerton said. “People follow people who work hard.”

Johnson’s early exit

Iowa State starting pitcher Tatum Johnson retired the first hitter of the Iowa lineup in the top of the first inning. But the heart of the Hawkeye order forced the Cyclone freshman to have an early exit Wednesday.

Johnson got the nod for her eighth start of the season in the circle. The freshman from Chino Hills, California, entered the matchup with 24 at-bats on the offensive side for Iowa State.

Brylee Klosterman led off the Iowa order with a groundout to Ranches at shortstop. Johnson allowed three walks in the next three at-bats, and the Hawkeyes loaded the bases for Sammy Diaz.

Iowa State made its first pitching change of the day. Pinkerton gave a different freshman the ball after just one-third innings pitched. Jaiden Ralston went to work in the circle to face Iowa’s Diaz.

Diaz hit a line drive back to Ralston that careened off the freshman’s glove. One run scored on the hit by Diaz and another on a throwing error by Ralston on her attempt to retire Diaz at first base.

Ralston’s long relief

Ralston was tasked with a long relief pitching assignment Wednesday evening. She entered the matchup with the Cyclones down two runs but became the winning pitcher of the day.

Ralston allowed three hits and no earned runs during her three and two-thirds innings of work in the circle. She finished with four strikeouts against the Hawkeye hitters.

“We needed a good outing from her,” Pinkerton said about Ralston. “She’s had her ups and downs, but she looked really good today.”

Ralston recorded the final two outs of the first inning, then struck out the Hawkeyes in order in the second inning. The leadoff hitter Klosterman and second hitter Tatianna Roman struck out looking in the second.

Hawkeye standout Nia Carter led off the third with a single, but Ralston facilitated two ground balls and force-outs for Iowa State.

Iowa’s Tory Bennett hit a line drive to right field in the third inning and Carter attempted to score. The Iowa State defense executed a relay to beat Carter and prevent Iowa from tying the ball game. Right fielder Tiana Poole found Kasey Simpson who made the throw to the plate.

Iowa State strikeout leader Saya Swain entered for the fifth inning to pitch for the Cyclones. She finished with five strikeouts and allowed five hits to give the Cyclones the 7-4 win.

Iowa State will return home to face No. 14 Baylor for a three-game series beginning Friday.