Before we delve into this weekend's series with Ohio State, let's stop for a moment to check out this very good profile of Iowa coach Rick Heller from The Daily Iowan:
Upper Iowa, where he was a letterwinner in baseball, basketball, and football, also provided a launching pad to Heller's successful college coaching career. He returned to Upper Iowa and coached the team to the program's first Iowa Conference title in 20 years in 1993. His team finished sixth in postseason polls in 1997.
From Fayette, Heller moved on to Northern Iowa, an underfunded Missouri Valley program whose baseball field was eight miles from campus, in the next town over.
The cards were stacked against the Panthers, who traversed from Cedar Falls to Waterloo for practice and games at Waterloo's Riverfront Stadium.
"The places I'd been, we had to work for everything we'd gotten," he said. "Our guys were out parking cars in the cold and the rain and the wind at every football game that was played at the UNI Dome.
Heller has had impressive success at every stop he's been at, which bodes well for his stay at Iowa. This year's results have been a step back from last year, but the overall future of the program still looks very good.
But yeah: Ohio State. I'm loathe to engage in too much hyperbole and talk about "must-win" games... but this weekend's three games against Ohio State are very, very, very big games for the Hawkeyes. They're sitting at 7-8 in the Big Ten, tied with Illinois for ninth place in the standings, right behind Ohio State at 8-7 in 8th place. Only the top eight teams go to the Big Ten Tournament. If Iowa goes 1-2 this weekend, Iowa would be 8-10 and Ohio State would be 10-8. If they get swept, the gap would be even larger (7-11 for Iowa, 11-7 for Ohio State). If Iowa can go 2-1, though, they'll be level with Ohio State at 9-9. There are other teams to account for and two more series to go after this weekend, but Iowa really needs to at least stay with the rest of those teams vying for the last few spots in the Big Ten Tournament.
OHIO STATE TIDBITS
Ohio State has the third-best ERA in the Big Ten overall (3.06), but they've been even better in conference play -- they're tops in the league with a 2.28 ERA. In Big Ten games, Ohio State has 108 strikeouts, fourth-best in the league and just 38 walks, the second-lowest total in the league (behind Maryland). They're also holding opposing batters to a .211 average in Big Ten games, tops in the league. Those are some ominous stats for Iowa's batters, who have had their ups and downs this year, but have had a few too many downs away from home this year. The good news is that Ohio State's batters haven't been very formidable this year, especially in Big Ten games -- the Buckeyes are hitting .242 in league play, tied for second-worst in the conference. On area of concern: they have a .362 slugging percentage (7th best in the conference) and 10 hits, third best in the Big Ten. Iowa has given up 18 (!) home runs in Big Ten games this year, by far the worst in the league. Iowa will also need to be wary of Ohio State when they are on base -- they've stolen 24 bases in 31 attempts this year, second-best in the conference.
PITCHING MATCH-UPS AND INFO
Game One: Iowa at Ohio State -- Friday, May 6, 5:30 PM CT
Iowa: RHP C.J. Eldred (SO, 2-6, 2.92 ERA)
Ohio State: LHP Tanner Tully (JR, 5-3, 2.60 ERA)
Eldred can't buy a win lately, but his overall stats have still been fairly decent and he's still Iowa's best starting pitcher. Hopefully things click for him today -- it is his birthday. Tully leads Ohio State in wins (5), innings pitched (72.2), and strikeouts (55), and he's held opposing batters to the lowest average (.237) among OSU's regular starters.
Game Two: Iowa at Ohio State -- Saturday, May 7, 2 PM CT
Iowa: RHP Tyler Peyton (SR, 1-5, 6.87 ERA)
Ohio State: LHP John Havird (SR, 5-1, 2.78 ERA)
Peyton is slated to get another chance on the mound; Iowa really, really needs him to rediscover some of his form from a year ago on the mound. Havrid has been OSU's second-best regular starter this year and his numbers aren't too far behind Tully's stats (2.78 ERA, 64.2 IP, 40 strikeouts, .229 opponent BA).
Game Three: Iowa at Ohio State -- Sunday, May 8, 12 PM CT
Ohio State: RHP Ryan Feltner (FR, 1-3, 4.14 ERA)
Iowa's Sunday starter is a man of mystery. Ohio State is slated to start Feltner, who has struggled this year -- he was the highest ERA among Ohio State's regular starters (4.14) and the highest number of walks (25) and the highest opponent batting average (.287). He'll probably be on a pretty short leash if he struggles.
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN/FOLLOW ALONG
All three games will be streamed on BTN Plus, while all three games will have radio broadcasts on Hawkeye All-Access ($); all games will also be available via GameTracker. You can also follow @UIBaseball on Twitter for regular updates. Friday's game will also have a radio broadcast on AM-800 KXIC.
We'll try to post updates in the comments, but feel free to post your own, too!