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Maryland Softball - Terps open Big Ten play on the road in Iowa City

The Maryland softball squad takes their 17-11 record to the mid west to face the 9-20 Iowa Hawkeyes in the Terps first Big Ten series. Picking three wins out of those cornfields should be easy, right? Maybe not. Let's take a closer look.

Those of you who have followed our reporting on the transition of Maryland's softball team under  new head coach Courtney Scott-Deifel are, by now, well aware that the Terps' play and results have both improved from last season's implosion. Although they have yet to register a signature win, Maryland has, for the most part, beaten the teams they should beat and have generally been competitive with some of the strongest teams on their early schedule.

The Terps get to open their inaugural Big Ten season against a team that in some ways their midwestern mirror. Iowa last reached the NCAA Tournament in 2009. Their current head coach, Marla Looper took over the program in 2011 and had amassed an unimpressive record of 100-104-1 entering this season. After going 30-24 in 2013, the Hawkeyes plummeted to 16-30-1 last season - the fewest wins since the program's third season in 1980 when they won only nine games.

Merely looking at their 2014 struggles and 9-20 record as they prepare to face Maryland could lead a casual fan to conclude that Iowa is ripe for an easy three win Terrapins' sweep. A closer look reveals that the fruit of wins over the Hawkeyes may not be quite as low hanging as it first appears,

Point one - A brutal schedule:

Eight of Iowa's first 29 games have come against teams currently in the top 20 of the Coaches Poll. Seven of those were played against top 10 squads.

Point two - Competing with the best:

Yes, some of these squads have routed the Hawkeyes - notably run rule losses to second ranked Florida (8-0 twice) and sixth ranked Oklahoma (9-0 and an absurd 23-3 loss) - but others have been very competitive. Iowa lost one run decisions to number three Oregon (2-1), number seven Louisiana-Lafayette (4-3) and number 20 UCF (3-2).

Point three - Common opponents:

In addition to UCF, who beat Maryland 8-6, the Terps and Hawkeyes have three common opponents: Tulsa, Princeton, and Northern Iowa. Here are the comparative results:

Tulsa 1 Maryland 0                  Iowa 7 Tulsa 6

Maryland 6 Princeton 5         Iowa 10 Princeton 2

Maryland 10 UNI 0                  Iowa 12 UNI 4

Nowhere can one reasonably spot a clear Maryland edge. And, Iowa is playing at home for the first time this season.

Top Hawkeyes Hitters

On the whole, Iowa is not a potent offensive squad. The Hawkeyes average just 3.3 runs per game. Eliminating all seven games against top 10 squads results in a somewhat more respectable 4 runs per game average. As a team, Iowa bats just .252.

The two principal offensive threats for Iowa are shortstop Megan Blank a 5'6" senior from Culver City, California and center fielder Sammi Gyerman a 5'5" sophomore from San Pedro, California. Blank leads all Iowa batters with a .424 average and 17 RBI. She's second on the team with three home runs and nearly always puts the ball in play having struck out only four times all season.

Gyerman bats .299 on the season and leads the Hawkeyes with four home runs. Her 13 RBI trails only Blank and she leads the team with 20 runs scored.

Top Hawkeyes Pitchers

From a roster standpoint, Iowa's pitching looks to be much like Maryland's. Looper mainly relies on two arms - redshirt sophomore Shayla Starkenburg and freshman Ashley Yoways.

In terms of workload, Starkenburg is to the Hawkeyes what Kaitlyn Schmeiser is to the Terrapins. The sophomore has started 17 of Iowa's 29 games and has pitched in 24 amassing 119 innings on the season. (For comparison, Schmeiser has started 14 of Maryland's 28 games, appeared in 25 and has pitched 109.1 innings.) Opponents bat .277 against Starkenburg. She has been tagged for 15 homers and pitches to an ERA of 4.47.

Yoways has started Iowa's other 12 games, appeared in 14 and, with 54.2 innings pitched, is to the Hawkeyes as Hannah Dewey is to the Terps. (Dewey has 12 starts and 58.2 innings pitched with 18 total appearances.) Just as Starkenburg has not been as effective as Schmeiser though, Yoways has been much more hittable than Dewey. She has pitched to an ERA of 8.32 while giving up 14 home runs and opponents bat .350 against her. Also, like Dewey, she struggles with her control. She has walked 45 batters in her limited work.

Some final words

In their last outing, Maryland dropped both ends of a doubleheader against a competent but far from outstanding team from St. Francis. Deifel made it clear in  her post game comments that she was not happy with her team's effort.

Opening with Iowa certainly presents the Terrapins with the opportunity to show that they are ready to compete in the Big Ten and smart at bats from a potent Maryland lineup could power the Terps to a series win or sweep. However, the Terps can't afford to look at the Hawkeyes' 9-20 record and think that winning will be easy. Iowa has gone toe to toe with some of the best squads in the country and they, too, will be looking to start their B1G season with a bang.