Cyclone softball heads to the Lone Star State

Iowa State junior Brianna Weilbacher pitches in the fourth inning. 

Ivan Vega

The Iowa State softball team is headed to the Lone Star State for a huge showdown against top-rated teams.

The Cyclones will head to Houston, Texas, to compete in the Houston Hilton Plaza Classic hosted by the University of Houston.

The Cyclones will face off against Lipscomb (11-4) twice, Northwestern (10-8), Houston (12-4) and Penn State (1-11).

This season alone, Iowa State has already top-rated competition in games against Long Beach State and Florida. Both teams have handed the Cyclones a loss.

The Cyclones are coming off a 2-3 weekend. They lost to Middle Tennessee, North Florida and Virginia Tech, but won against Virginia Tech on Friday and Jacksonville on Sunday.

This weekend’s brightest highlight was the pitching effort of Brianna Weilbacher, who pitched 15 total innings, earning a 0.00 ERA, 22 strikeouts and kept opponents’ batting average to a .154.

“It was going so quick, that I didn’t really think,” Weilbacher said on her mindset during her outings.

The senior out of Columbia, Illinois, made an impact in her first game of the tournament against the Hokies. She pitched seven innings, striking out 10 batters and didn’t allow a single run on five hits.

Her next outing, against Jacksonville, saw her come in for a potential save after she had been pulled earlier in the came. In her 7.1 innings, she allowed two hits, and accumulated 10 strikeouts, securing the Cyclones’ 3-2 win.

“I like watching film, but I don’t watch a lot of it,” Weilbacher said. “I kinda like to know the general idea of [the opponent’s] lineup, but that’s about it.”

So far in the season, Weilbacher’s record is 5-2, accounting for 50 percent of the Cyclones’ wins this season. The Cyclones will rely on her play going into their upcoming games.

Weilbacher’s relationship with Sally Woolpert behind the plate does not concern the right-handed pitcher after her normal catcher, Kaylee Bosworth, went down with an injury.

“I think Bosworth, when she got injured, she was really encouraging to [Woolpert],” Weilbacher said. “Woolpert has caught before, so kinda knows all of us [pitchers].” 

Her leadership as a senior was a key component coming into the season, driving the team to victories in all but her losses to Long Beach State, Coastal Carolina and Virginia Tech.

Iowa State has been hit with multiple struggles all season, ranging from offensive struggles, tough plate adjustments and injuries.

“We’re not doubting our talent, we’re letting the pitcher and the ball attack us,” said Iowa State coach Jamie Pinkerton. “We just got to be more aggressive at the plate, and hit our pitch when it presents itself.”

Injuries have forced Pinkerton to play players in various roles. In order to keep the players fresh, Pinkerton has allowed other players rest time at certain positions.

A keen example is the adjustment of switching from Bosworth to Woolpert at the catcher position.

In the last tournament, Woolpert saw action at catcher, after a possible injury to Bosworth, the starter. Woolpert has seen action in the infield and catcher throughout her career, giving her the opportunity to be versatile. 

“In practice, we have had people play different positions, and sometimes in games we’ve had to put people in that haven’t played that position consistently in practice,” said Sami Williams. ”Just being able to be versatile players is important, especially as we get further in the season.”

Williams, who currently leads the team in batting average and hits, is open to being versatile on the field but is focused on improving her batting.

“I can definitely improve on pitch selection, making sure I’m hitting my pitch and not the pitcher’s pitch,” Williams said. “Even though it may be a strike, it may not be a pitch I can hit well.

“Especially with runners on bases, I need to know what pitch to score them or move them.”

Iowa State has left a lot of runs on the bases, going as high as 11 runners left on base against Maryland.

The season is long and according to Pinkerton, players recovering from injuries will have force adjustments to the team.

“It doesn’t come at a good time because of the injuries we have,” Pinkerton said. “Sunday afternoon, we didn’t start our starting catcher or third baseman and we’re still able to win a game.”

In Houston, the Cyclones will have to rally to make sure the players have the mental and physical toughness during a demanding stretch of 13 games in 10 days.

The Cyclones will travel starting on Thursday and will not conclude their travel until the last game on March 18.

“What I hope to learn [from playing Houston] on the road is to find a way to improve our record on the road,” Pinkerton said.