Iowa's Allison Doocy Hopes Big Workload Pays Dividends
Allison Doocy and Iowa had a chance to make a statement.
The underdog Hawkeyes—who barely snuck into the 2018 Big Ten Tournament field — had just scored four runs in the top of the seventh inning to take a 5-1 lead over Ohio State. But the Buckeyes loaded the bases with one out in the bottom half of the inning, and because Iowa lacked depth on its pitching staff, it was up to Doocy to finish off the upset.
The Hawkeyes’ then-sophomore workhorse did just that, striking out the dangerous Shelby McCombs and Niki Carver to keep her team’s season alive.
But to Doocy, the win meant more than just a chance to play another game.
“That was when I started having confidence in this group,” Doocy said. “That was a turning point where we did something a lot of people didn’t think we could.”
But Iowa’s next game, two days later, was perhaps an even truer measure of how much Doocy meant to the Hawkeyes. With every game a must-win, Iowa had no choice but to ride her again. After throwing 146 pitches against Ohio State, Doocy threw 128 over eight innings, but was on the losing end of a 2-1 score against Northwestern.
That game has been the story of Doocy’s career in a nutshell. Now a senior, the tall, rise ball-throwing right-hander pitched 57 percent of the Hawkeyes’ innings last season, and 56 percent the year before that. She entered her final year with a career 2.39 ERA, while averaging nearly a strikeout per inning. And she’s had almost nothing to show for it.
Despite her sterling numbers, Doocy’s record through three seasons is a mere 35-41. Iowa has averaged fewer than 20 wins a year during her career, finishing no higher than 10th in the Big Ten.
The culprits? A lack of pitching depth behind Doocy, and an extreme lack of offense. The Hawkeyes’ team batting average the last three years was never higher than .226, their team OPS was .584, .604 and .594, respectively, and they hit a total of 42 home runs across those seasons. For reference, 82 Division I teams hit more than 42 blasts in 2019 alone.
“At first, I let (the workload) affect me a lot,” Doocy said. “I started to understand that was my role and that’s what was needed of me.”
For a year and a half, Doocy handled that workload with aplomb. After pitching to a 1.70 ERA and limiting opponents to a .238 batting average as a sophomore, she entered Big Ten play last year with an ERA of 1.20. But pitching nearly every game against an extremely tough conference schedule, Doocy struggled, allowing five earned runs or more four times as Iowa finished in 12th place.
Doocy and the Hawkeyes are confident, though, that this year will be different. Iowa is off to a 4-1 start, highlighted by a win over defending ACC champion Virginia Tech last Sunday. Coach Renee Gillispie, in her second season, has set out on a path to rebuild the Hawkeyes into the national power they were in the 1990s, when they made three straight trips to the Women’s College World Series.
Iowa has not had a winning season since 2013 and last made the NCAA Tournament in 2009. But Gillispie said the culture of the program has already changed and the team is buying into her methods. And after playing the most difficult conference schedule in the Big Ten last year, the Hawkeyes have it much more manageable in 2020.
“We don’t expect to wow anybody this year, but we’re going to surprise some people,” Gillispie said. “Our goal is to surprise the teams that don’t think much of us right now. We have a whole new squad, so a lot of teams don’t know much about us.”
While other teams may not know much about Iowa, they will certainly know about the Hawkeyes’ ace. But Doocy may finally be getting some help in the circle in the form of Lauren Shaw, who redshirted last year but already picked up three wins in this season’s first weekend.
Iowa’s offense will try to give Doocy and Shaw some ever-elusive run support. Community college transfer Mia Ruther has started the year 8-for-15, and freshman Kalena Burns is slugging .625 through five games.
Doocy, though, is still the glue holding the team together, and she would like nothing more than to see the Hawkeyes jump up in the Big Ten standings and contend for an NCAA Tournament berth in her final season.
“She’s accepting her role and realizes she’s got a lot to offer this year,” Gillispie said. “She’s done so much for Iowa over the last three years, and she’s going to be that player that helps us take that step we need to get us back into national recognition.”