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NCAA BASEBALL: THE SPRINGFIELD, MO REGIONAL

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A quick look at how Iowa compares to the other squads in its four-team pod to open the NCAA tournament.

Iowa base-stealing maven Eric Toole
Iowa base-stealing maven Eric Toole
@UIBaseball

Another couple of decades plus, another NCAA tournament appearance for Iowa baseball. It's so predictable that I think we all saw this coming. Yuuup. The 1990 Hawkeyes bowed out of their six-team, double-elimination regional in two games, falling 4-3 to Maine, and 5-3 to North Carolina. As Ross showed yesterday, among other things, Iowa is in one of sixteen four-team double-elimination regional brackets in this year's NCAA Division I Baseball Championship. The Springfield, Missouri regional hosted by Missouri State, to be specific. Here's a quick look at the teams gathered in Springfield this weekend.

1) The Hosts: Missouri State Bears (45-10 Overall, 18-3 MO Valley)

Missouri State is the top seed in the regional, and the No. 8 national seed. They're ranked No. 6 by Baseball America, and have the eighth-best RPI in the nation. So they're legit.

Jon Harris and Matt Hall provide a heckuva 1-2 punch at the top of Missouri State's rotation. They have a combined 17-3 record over 28 starts, with a 2.05 ERA and an eye-popping 11.7 K/9. Top-end power pitching: Check. Closer Bryan Young has held opponents to microscopic batting (.199) and slugging (.248) figures, while posting a 7-0 record with 14 saves and a 1.16 ERA. Relief ace: Check. No Bear with more than 2 1/3 IP has an ERA above 4.95. Pitching depth: Check.

If there's any hope for the three teams visiting Springfield, it's Missouri State's lineup. They're well-balanced, with seven players posting OPS figures of at least 0.800. They're 51st nationally in team slugging, but they don't necessarily have any total destroyers. Their best all-around threat appears to be Eric Cheray, who only appeared in 24 games, but raked at a .436 clip, with an eye-catching 1.088 OPS figure, and 18 RBI in those 24 games (22 starts). Tate Matheny appears to be a very pesky threat, having managed to get plunked 17 times, and leading the Bears with 12 stolen bases in 14 attempts.

So Missouri State is pretty good. What does that mean for Iowa? Well, way back yestermonth of February in the great state of Texas, the Hawkeyes overcame a 4-1 deficit to beat the Bears 6-5 (box score). The Bears left 15 runners on base, all in the first seven innings, including leaving the bags juiced three times. By comparison, Iowa left 11 on. Blake Hickman started for Iowa, and was even less sharp than in his B1G tourney start against Michigan, posting a line of 1 2/3 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 4 BB, 0 K. Yikes. Calvin Mathews aided the long relief effort by pitching a couple innings, and Connor Grant pulled the oldest trick in the book by blowing a save opportunity to pick up the win in odd fashion, giving up a run in three hitless innings by way of two walks and two wild pitches. Weird game, but Go Iowa Awesome, eh?

2) The Heroes: Iowa Hawkeyes (39-16 Overall, 19-5 Big Ten)

We've been following #Hellerball all year, so I'll be brief with this one, but in case we have any new followers this weekend: Iowa went 19-5 in the best Big Ten ever, baseball-wise, and did it almost completely with pitching and defense. Blake Hickman, just mentioned in my summary of Missouri State, managed to bridge the bookends of his poor starts against Michigan and Missouri State with a 9-2 season featuring a 2.90 ERA. Keeping that theme, Calvin Mathews, who got shelled in Iowa's last game against Indiana in the B1G tourney, surrendered only 14 extra-base hits ALL SEASON...including that Indiana game, where he gave up three. So yeah, the Hawkeyes just need to write off last week.

Iowa is pretty tepid offensively. The Hawkeyes get their runs by racking up singles and grinding out productive outs. It puts a lot of pressure on their pitching staff. Iowa's one elite offensive performer is Eric Toole, up for a Nobel Prize in the field of base-stealing, swiping 27 bags in 33 tries, tied for 27th nationally.

3) The Hostiles: Oregon Ducks (37-23 Overall, 16-14 Pac 12)

Meet your immediate enemy, Hawkeye fans. Oregon's starting pitching staff is not scary. The Hawkeyes will likely see either Cole Irvin (2-4, 4.01 ERA) or David Peterson (4-6, 4.39 ERA). But don't fall behind, because Oregon's bullpen is terrifying. Opponents have batted .154 against closer Garrett Cleavinger, who has a 6-2 record, 9 saves, a 1.59 ERA, and averages 15.0 strikeouts per 9 IP. Yo. Oh, and Stephen Nogosek has only eaten 52 2/3 IP with a 2.05 ERA and a .201 oppAvg. Am I missing anyone? Oh, Josh Graham (4-1 record) has chewed up 59 innings to the tune of a 2.75 ERA. That's a lot of sub-3.00-ERA relief.

Tolman Mitchell (.329 Avg., 19 2B, 3 HR, 40 RBI) is Oregon's offensive standout. By and large, though, the Ducks look like they also practice #Hellerball, racking up a nation-leading 79 sacrifice bunts this season.

4) The Hoping-Against-Hopers: Canisius Golden Griffins (34-28 Overall, 16-8 Metro Atlantic)

Does anybody in this regional have any mashers? I think Golden Griffin (man, I love that nickname) Connor Panas counts. Panas batted .379 this season, with 17 doubles, 7 triples, 10 HR, 67 RBI, a 1.109 OPS, and he also stole 19 bases in 24 attempts. So yes, Canisius has one. No, wait...two. Brett Siddall (.353, 24 2B, 12 HR, 63 RBI) would also like to join that list. But the rest of the Golden Griffin roster looks rather Iowa-like, combining for nine dingers. And for the briefest summary of the Canisius pitching staff: they have a 4.60 team ERA, 162nd nationally, compared to Missouri State's 2.75 (7th), Iowa's 3.00 (18th), and Oregon's 3.68 (74th). Canisius will go as far as Panas and Siddall can take them.