Iowa headed down to Georgia last weekend for the Spring Swing at LakePointe event hoping to rack up some wins and build some positive momentum after a rocky start to the season (4-6). Four games later, Iowa is... in kind of the same spot, frankly. They went 2-2 at the Spring Swing, losing their first two games against Nebraska-Omaha and Seton Hall and winning their last two games against Savannah State and Point University. That was really just holding serve, though -- Point University is an NAIA school and Savannah State is a pretty bad team, so wins over those teams was expected. Neither Seton Hall nor Nebraska-Omaha are great, but they would have been decent wins for Iowa. No dice.
GAME 1: NEBRASKA-OMAHA 3, IOWA 2
The UNO game was Iowa's first game after erupting for 28 runs against Northwestern College last week, and that offensive explosion seemed to carry over to the beginning of this game -- Iowa's third batter (Nick Roscett) launched a 2-run home run that put Iowa up 2-0 early. Unfortunately, Iowa's bats completely disappeared after that -- they went hitless in their next five innings and finished with just two more hits after their 3-hit, 2-run first inning. Iowa got another pretty solid outing from C.J. Eldred -- he gave up 3 ER in 6 innings of work while striking out five batters, although he did also scatter 10 hits in those six innings of work. Zach Daniels and Nick Allgeyer combined to throw two shutout innings in relief of Eldred. UNO pitcher Tyler Fox settled down after that early home run and pitched 7 innings, striking out 8 and giving up just 4 hits (only one after the first inning).
GAME 2: SETON HALL 7, IOWA 1
In the second game of the event, Seton Hall jumped on Iowa early -- the Pirates scored 4 runs on 3 hits and a walk in the first inning -- and Iowa's offense remained anemic. In fairness, Iowa actually ended the game with more hits (8) than the Pirates (6), but they couldn't get hits in bunches and score runs. Tyler Peyton went 2/3 at the plate and scored Iowa's only run in the bottom of the 7th after walking, moving to second base on a wild pitch, moving to third on a single by Grant Klenovich, and scoring on a fielder's choice from Austin Guzzo. Peyton was also Iowa's starting pitcher for the game and while he settled down after that lousy first inning (he finished up with 5 IP, conceding 5 hits and 4 runs, with 3 strikeouts), that first inning doomed Iowa, especially with their bats so inept.
GAME 3: IOWA 14, SAVANNAH STATE 4
Iowa got off to another bad start against Savannah State, although the first inning was a weird and kind of fluky one, as the box score indicates:
Three runs on one hit? Wha? Well, Iowa starting pitcher Calvin Mathews walked two batters, had a balk, and also threw a wild pitch. Not great, Bob.
Mathews settled down a bit after that, although he gave up 1 run and 3 hits in the fourth inning and got yanked for Nick Gallagher, who finished out the game with 5.1 IP, giving up just 3 hits and 0 runs while dishing out 4 Ks and walking none. Fortunately for Iowa, their bats finally woke up. Austin Guzzo led off the second inning with a home run and Iowa added another run off a Zach Daniels single. The floodgates really opened in the fifth inning when Iowa plated 8 runs to take control of the game. They had just 5 hits in that inning, but benefited from a pair of throwing errors and at least two wild pitches from Savannah State pitchers. Iowa added 3 runs on 5 hits in the sixth inning to put an exclamation point on the blowout. Six Iowa batters had at least two hits in the game and four had at least three hits, led by Joel Booker, who went 3/6 with a home run, 2 runs scored, and 4 RBI. Robert Neustron and Mason McCoy each went 3/6 as well and Zach Daniels went went 3/4 with 2 runs scored and an RBI.
GAME 4: IOWA 7, POINT UNIVERSITY 1
Iowa scored a run on two hits in the first inning to take an early lead over Point University, then added 3 runs on 3 hits in the second inning to take control of the game. Joel Booker, Nick Roscetti, and Jimmy Frankos each hit doubles for Iowa and Booker, Roscetti, and Peyton each had two hits in the game. Roscetti went 2/3 with a walk, 3 runs scored, and 2 RBI to earn man of the match honors. Iowa went with a pitching-by-committee approach for the fourth game of the weekend and Cole McDonald, Sam Lizarraga, Josh Martsching, Luke Vandermaten, and Tyler Radtke combined to give up 8 hits and 1 run across 9 innings, striking out 8 and walking just 2 batters.
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Perfect Game wrote a solid article about Iowa's early season struggles, which is worth reading:
"We've gotten off to a slower than what we thought, but we've played some good teams and they're good teams that played well; a lot of time we lost when we played pretty well," Heller said. "Our bats started out a little slower than what all of us thought but we've seen good pitching and hopefully that helps us when we get into conference (play). I think we're getting better every day and that's what we're trying to do."
This is the second year Heller brought the Hawks to the PG College Spring Swing and he's found the experience to be an ideal one. He likes knowing he is taking his team to a quality facility and the artificial turf fields that drain rapidly and efficiently make rainouts a rarity. He also likes the fact that his team can face other schools from up north instead of coming south and getting feasted upon by the southern schools that have been practicing and playing outdoors since late January.
Hopefully things do start clicking for the Hawkeyes soon -- their Big Ten schedule looks like a bear, so they're going to need to be in strong form to grab wins then.
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Iowa did get a little good news this week -- freshman second baseman Zach Daniels was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week this week:
Zach Daniels of @UIBaseball knocked in five RBI in two games to earn Freshman of the Week plaudits pic.twitter.com/0DEANn1bc7— Big Ten Baseball (@B1Gbaseball) March 14, 2016
NEXT: Iowa heads to Springfield, Mo. to take on Missouri State in a three-game series. Iowa's magical 2015 season ended in Springfield, losing to Missouri State in the NCAA regionals. The Bears have another strong team this season (12-2), so Iowa will again face a big test.