Why Iowa baseball continues to thrive despite nasty weather
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— mcmichael (@triowa) April 4, 2018
ANSWER: The weather this spring has done a number on the great summer pastime in the Midwest. With snow a foot deep in the Twin Cities, Minnesota had to move its series against Penn State to West Lafayette, Ind. Iowa-Illinois played their series finale in a snowstorm last Sunday in Champaign. Even the Iowa-Ohio State series in Iowa City was pushed back one day because of freezing temperatures in the forecast.
Despite the lingering winter wonderland, Iowa baseball has battled through its first month of the season. The Hawkeyes are 17-9 overall and 3-2 in Big Ten play. Iowa faced ranked foes in Indiana and Illinois in its first two league series and held its own. The Hoosiers are ranked 10th nationally and the teams split their series. The Fighting Illini were No. 25 when Iowa took two of three.
“I’m really pleased with how we played,” Iowa coach Rick Heller said. “I think we’ve competed really well in all the games. The schedule was tough — we played good teams — but we’ve played well and found ways to win.
“The offense continues to keep moving forward. We’ve kind of solidified things defensively with the lineups we’re going to run out there against righties and lefties. The pitching for the most part has been really good, the back-end bullpen good. We’ve got to clean some things up with the middle guys.”
The schedule remains just as difficult moving forward. The Buckeyes are 19-8 and rank first among league squads with a .309 team batting average and lead in slugging percentage, hits, runs batted in and runs scored. In fact, Iowa’s Big Ten slate might be the most difficult of the 13 league baseball schools. After Ohio State, Iowa faces Nebraska, Minnesota and Michigan in succession. It doesn’t lighten up until the final two series against Northwestern and Penn State.
“I definitely feel like we’re taking the steps forward,” Heller said. “It’s going to be a tough one this weekend. Ohio State, breaking them down, a lot of guys back, really good arms, really talented, maybe as talented a team we’ll play all year. They’ve played well this season, and they’re really swinging the bats and good arms on the mound.
“It’s going to be a big series, but I think we’re going to be having this same conversation the next two weeks after this one.”
Iowa won the Big Ten Tournament last year and has participated in two of the last three NCAA tournaments. Before it qualified for the postseason in 2015, Iowa’s last NCAA tourney appearance was in 1990. The Hawkeyes face the Buckeyes in a doubleheader at 2 p.m. CT/1 p.m. CT Saturday with the finale scheduled for an undetermined time on Sunday.
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