Two aces in hand for 2013
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Pitching is everything in collegiate softball. With Chelsea Lyon and Kayla Massey turning the corner during the 2012 University of Iowa softball season, the Hawkeyes will be set in the circle in 2013.
"There is a lot of excitement around as long as they start where they finish and don't go backward," says UI head coach Marla Looper, who guided the Hawkeyes to a 27-26 overall record and a 16-8 Big Ten mark this season. "Both are bound and determined to be better than they were this year, which is exciting."
Lyon finished her junior season with 12 victories and a career-best 2.61 ERA. She started 27 games, tossing 19 complete games and closing out five shutouts, while limiting the opposition to a .238 batting average.
Massey went 15-11 with a 2.04 ERA en route to earning first team All-Big Ten honors. The sophomore had seven shutouts in 26 starts and had 120 strikeouts in 185.2 innings.
Iowa finished with a 2.31 team ERA, which ranked third in the conference. The mark was the best for the program since the 2009 season.
Looper says midway through the year a flip switched, which corresponded to the team's surge down the stretch.
"The biggest key was confidence in themselves," says Looper. "A lot of our bullpen workouts were putting them in uncomfortable positions, trying to throw pitches that they're not comfortable in certain counts and to certain zones.
"When they were comfortable being uncomfortable, that's when they stepped into the game and it became easy."
Massey made it look "easy" down the stretch for the Hawkeyes. The Foothill Ranch, Calif., native went 7-2 with a 0.88 ERA with five shutouts over her final nine starts to help lead the Hawkeyes to a runner-up finish in the Big Ten Conference.
"Kayla finally hit her stride and it all clicked," says Looper. "She is taking that and using that as the base to start from next year. This is a huge springboard for her. Starting there is going to elevate her.
"Is success guaranteed? No, you have to work hard to do it, but Kayla does a job with working hard to get better to help the team."
Looper says it will be beneficial having both pitchers return to the team in 2013, especially having seen the pair's growth over the past two seasons.
"The growth they have made the last two years has been exponential," says Looper. "They were throwers, but now they're pitchers. They're going at hitters, not trying to throw around hitters. You can see they've turned the corner, which is exciting.
"Not many programs can say they have their ace coming back for two more years or even another year. We have two that are coming back for another year together. They were two of the top pitchers in our region, and not many programs have two that are quality. We have two quality pitchers…two aces."