After a five-game losing skid to end the regular season, the Iowa Hawkeye Baseball team managed to scrape by and qualify for the postseason as the No. 8 seed in the Big Ten Tournament, happening today through Sunday at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, NE. But despite that, the Hawkeyes did finish the regular season with a 30-22 overall record. It’s the sixth consecutive season that the Hawkeyes have both won 30 games and made the Big Ten Tournament under head coach Rick Heller.
As the last seed in the double elimination tournament, the Hawkeyes will have to face the No. 1 seed Indiana Hoosiers tonight at 5 p.m. God’s time. Since the tournament is double-elimination, the Hawks will face the winner/loser of No. 4 Minnesota vs. No. 5 Nebraska, depending, on Thursday. Check out the full bracket to see Iowa’s path here.
Conventional wisdom seems to have determined that the Hawks need to win the tournament and earn the conference’s automatic bid in the NCAA Tournament if they want the season to continue, due to the team’s weak RPI.
Take the losing streak out of the equation, and the Hawkeyes would still have a daunting task ahead of them in the Hoosiers. They’re 0-3 against Indiana on the year, and also lost 10-2 to the Hoosiers the last time they faced off in the tournament back in 2015.
Indiana leads the conference in runs per game at 7.1, and has powerful bats who have combined for 90 home runs on the season. The Hoosiers also have the conference’s best slugging percentage at .464. On the mound, the Hoosiers are strong as well, with the conference-leading ERA of 3.58, and strike out nearly 10 batters per nine innings.
Speaking of pitching, the game will feature a matchup of Indiana’s senior RHP Pauly Milto, who has a 3.51 ERA and an 8-5 record on the year, vs. Iowa’s Cole McDonald, another RHP with a 5-3 record and a 3.78 ERA. A strong performance from McDonald will be pivotal in this matchup for Iowa. The Hawkeye offense has proven to be strong during the five game losing streak, scoring 27 total runs over the course of the games, but the pitching and fielding left a lot to be desired. But Milto could once again prove a tricky challenge for the Hawkeyes. Earlier in the year, he struck out 10 batters as he lasted into the 9th inning. It will be crucial for Iowa’s batters like Tanner Wetrich, Ben Norman and Izaya Fullard to have smart at-bats and avoid stranding runners as much as possible.
I really have no idea what kind of game we could see. It could be a 1-0 shutout either way, or we could see a 10-9 offensive explosion. Both teams are capable of both. It really will come down to which Iowa team shows up. If it’s the squad at their best, they’re capable of beating the Hoosiers and advancing in the tournament. Lose, and it’s a possible matchup against a team that Iowa defeated twice in the regular season (Nebraska) or a team it didn’t face at all (Minnesota), and a longer climb back up.
While the recent losing skid hasn’t been encouraging, this Hawkeye team has been surprising this season. And given the stakes, and Heller’s run of success in the Big Ten Tournament, I think we have more to see from this team.
All of the tournament games will be televised on the Big Ten Network, and can be streamed using BTN2Go. Iowa’s games can be heard, as always, on the Hawkeye Radio Network where available.