Recap of Recent Action
Last weekend (April 5-7), the Iowa baseball team hosted No. 24 Indiana, and got swept by the Hoosiers, dropping their conference record to 3-6. The Hawkeyes rebounded brilliantly, sweeping a two-game midweek series from Kansas, which entered with a 21-11 record and receiving votes in the National College Baseball Writers' Association poll. In game one against the Jayhawks, the Hawkeyes erased an early two-run deficit to win 5-3, led by 4 RBI from DH Dan Potempa, including a two-out, three-run double in the fifth inning that put the Hawkeyes ahead for good. Lefthander Sasha Kuebel got the win, pitching 5 2/3 innings in relief of Blake Hickman, who walked five Jayhawks in 2 1/3 frames. CF Eric Toole was the man of the match [game] in Iowa's 12-7 game two win over KU. Toole went 4-5 (all singles), with 5 RBI and two runs scored. 2B Jake Mangler added a pair of doubles and 3 RBI.
On that high note, the Hawks headed to Evanston, where they aimed for a series sweep at justNorthwestern. While the jNW tag may be somewhat of a gag in football, where the Wildcats have had a not significant amount of success, the tag seems well-earned in baseball, with the Wildcats entering the Iowa series at 5-22 (1-7 B1G).
Alas, regardless of sport, it was still Iowa at Northwestern, so naturally, the Hawkeyes coughed up a ten-run lead [TEN!] in game one, to lose 14-13. The Hawkeye lineup brought a balanced attack, running up a 13-3 lead through six and a half innings, with no single Hawkeye netting more than two hits or 3 RBI in the flurry. Iowa ace Calvin Mathews exited with that ten-run lead in the middle of the seventh. Northwestern immediately raised the drama level, staging a five-run two-out seventh inning rally, capped by a two-run homer by LF Joe Hoscheit, closing the gap to 13-8. Four more Wildcat runs in the eighth brought the score to 13-12, and jNW notched the two runs needed to win on a trio of singles in the ninth, helped by a throwing error. Barf.
A brilliant pitching outing by Tyler Peyton (7 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 3K) lifted Iowa to an 8-1 victory in game two of the series. Kuebel continued his roll on the mound in the finale, notching a complete-game shutout, scattering eight hits and notching six strikeouts in a 5-0 series finale win.
So where exactly do the Hawkeyes sit? They've played half of their Big Ten slate, and they sit at 5-7 in conference play, which ties them for seventh in the Big Ten standings with Minnesota, one game ahead of Ohio State. Eight teams get berths to the conference tournament, so the Hawks are sitting right on the bubble.
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The good news for Iowa is that it has the really hard portion of the slate behind it. Nebraska is 6-0 in league play since dropping two of three to the Hawks at Duane Banks. Indiana is 8-1 in the conference as it looks to build on its 2013 College World Series appearance. Michigan, which took two of three from Iowa in Ann Arbor, handed Indiana its only loss, and dealt Illinois two of its three conference losses.
Also, it just so happens that three of Iowa's four remaining series are against close competitors in the standings: Their dead heat with Minnesota will be broken for better or worse (barring rainout(s)) this coming weekend, in a big three-game series at the Duane from April 18-20. Then after dabbling in non-conference play for a whole week (4/23 at Creighton, 4/25-4/27 vs. South Dakota State in Iowa City, 4/29 vs. Milwaukee in Iowa City), they head to Columbus to face Ohio State from May 3-5. After closing the home slate against Illinois (currently third in the B1G at 6-3), the Hawks wrap up the regular season at OMHR, which is peskily hanging around at 3-6 in conference play.
There's a lot of meaningful baseball coming up, especially this weekend, as the Hawkeyes look to gain the inside track on Minnesota for a spot in the Big Ten tournament. The Hawkeyes haven't appeared in the conference tourney since 2010, when they worked out of the losers' bracket to finish as the runner-up.