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Baseball faces always tough Michigan

BY JEFF PAWOLA | MARCH 27, 2009 7:30 AM

After a slow start to the 2009 season, the Iowa baseball team will try to continue its recent winning ways in its Big Ten season-opener against Michigan at 4 p.m., today. It’s the first contest of a three-game series this weekend at Banks Field.

The Hawkeyes are 8-10 on the year, but they have won five of their last six after their most recent game, an 8-2 victory on March 25 over Coe.

“I like what we’ve been doing over the last 10 days. I like our approach to the field, and I hope we carry that into this weekend against Michigan,” Iowa head coach Jack Dahm said. “It’s the first Big Ten game. Guys will be excited, just like the first game of the year.”

The Wolverines (14-6) come in as the three-time defending Big Ten champion and have won 11 of the past 12 contests with Iowa. The last time the Hawkeyes beat Michigan was on May 19, 2007, and since have lost six straight.

“We’re not going to make these games against Michigan any more important than the Coe game, or when we played Western Illinois, or when we play Nebraska, Creighton, or any of those other teams,” Dahm said. “If you worry about winning games, that we’re playing Michigan, then that’s when you make that game too important.

“These Michigan games are just one game of the year — one Friday, one Saturday, one Sunday. We just need to go out and play real solid baseball.”

Iowa opened Big Ten play in 2008 swept in four games by the Wolverines. At the team’s media day, Dahm took the blame for those losses, saying he put too much of an emphasis on the series as a whole.

As a result, Dahm’s players have also bought into his credence.

“You know, last year is last year. We kind of put that behind us. But you know, you always want to start off well,” senior first baseman T.J. Cataldo said. “Starting with Michigan is a tough start because of [the Wolverines’] history. We look forward to it, and it’s always important to get off to a good start, but we’re just going to play our game and take it one pitch at a time.”

Cataldo is batting .319 for the year with a team-leading 21 RBIs, and he is tied for the team lead in home runs with four.

Fellow senior and shortstop Justin Toole has the same mentality, and he is optimistic about collecting only his second win ever against Michigan.

“I think last year and this year are two different teams. I think right now, the guys are approaching the field with the right mindset and a good mentality,” he said. “I like our chances going into this weekend the way we’ve been playing the last couple of weeks. I don’t think there is too much pressure going out and getting a win. It’s just playing well, and when you play well, you know whatever happens, happens.”

Iowa’s probable starter will be freshman Nick Brown (1-1), who notched his first career win on March 21 against Western Illinois in the home-opener. The weekend games are scheduled to start at 1 p.m. with freshman Jarred Hippen (1-0) taking the mound on Saturday and senior Wes Freie (2-1) starting on March 29.


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