How Iowa baseball’s Dominican Republic trip led to a Big Ten title, Nick Gallagher’s status for regional, and more
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So let’s get to it. Here is the Iowa Breakfast Club for Tuesday, May 30.
Why November was key to Iowa’s Big Ten Tournament title
For Iowa baseball coach Rick Heller, the biggest moment in the Hawkeyes’ Big Ten Tournament run came before his team ate turkey, stuffing and all the Thanksgiving fixings.
The coach believes Iowa’s trip to the Dominican Republic in November was as big of a factor as any for Iowa making the NCAA Tournament.
“Without the Dominican trip it’s a different year,” Heller said.
The Hawkeyes needed all the practice time they could get. They lost 25 players to graduation or the Major League Baseball draft the last two seasons. Twenty newcomers littered the roster. The foreign trip gave Iowa 10 extra practices and four additional games.
“It helped us a ton,” Heller said. “Being able to go out and play games with the new guys before the season started, that was huge. Then the situation we were in, down as many arms, it was extra important to get those arms that we were going to have to step in there and get some innings before we started.”
Iowa left for the Dominican on Nov. 18. The payoff came in the conference tournament in late May. The pitching staff carried Iowa to the tournament title and Heller relied on seemingly every arm at his disposal to help the team raise the championship trophy.
The foreign trip wasn’t just a chance for the players to make a memory that will last a lifetime. It turned out to be a way for them to make several.
Who starts the regional opener?
Nick Gallagher is Iowa’s ace. Friday night during Big Ten play was his domain. He started the league tournament opener.
He seems a natural choice to face Houston in the NCAA regional on Friday (8 p.m. ET, ESPNU).
But Heller is holding off on naming him the first regional starter after Gallagher threw an inning of relief in the championship game on Sunday.
“He just has to continue to do his normal routine and hopefully he is ready to go,” Heller said. “We will take a look and see. If he feels like another day would help him recover [we will] because he is not a guy we really like to do much with [on] short rest. He is coming off of two weekends in a row where he has.
“Maybe with (Ryan) Erickson pitching good we flip it because it really doesn’t matter at this point because you need to win both of those games to have a realistic chance to win the regional.
“So we have to do whatever is best for the team.”
Gallagher typically pitches once a week. He threw 6 innings and allowed 4 earned runs at Illinois on May 18. He went 6 innings, allowing 8 runs, in the tournament opener against Maryland on May 25. Gallagher made his first relief appearance of the season three days later.
While a coach wants to use his ace right away, getting Gallagher back on form is more important. Iowa won’t win the Houston regional without him. If he needs to push back his start one day Iowa should do it.
Bring on Schroeder Park
Iowa wanted as tough of a test as possible in the NCAA Tournament. Heading to Houston will certainly provide it.
The Hawkeyes will also get the type of stadium they were hoping for in Houston’s Schroeder Park.
“They have a big seating section,” Jake Adams said.
The Hawkeyes wanted to play in a raucous environment to experience the full tournament treatment. The 3,500 seats at Schroeder Park should be filled on Friday night with three Texas programs joining Iowa in the regional.
The diamond is also sports turf. It will be a lot like playing on the artificial turf at Duane Banks Field. It’s a little thing, but Adams believes it will benefit the Hawkeyes.
“We are comfortable with it,” Adams said. “It’s a huge factor for us.”