Last baseball dance for Hawks, Panthers

BY JEFF PAWOLA | APRIL 28, 2009 7:29 AM

In the final chapter of the state’s last intrastate baseball rivalry, Iowa will take on Northern Iowa in the Corridor Classic in Veterans Memorial Stadium in Cedar Rapids at 6:30 p.m. today.

The Northern Iowa baseball program will be closed down following this season after not reaching the $1.2 million amount needed to keep the program afloat. The Panthers raised almost $260,000 in only six weeks, but they could not gather enough donations to continue the program, which has been around since 1906.

“We fought as hard as we could, and I’m proud of the effort our group showed until the very end,” Panther head coach Rick Heller said in a press release April 8 on SupportNorthern IowaBaseball.com. “To think we are losing one of only two Division-I baseball programs in Iowa for political reasons is criminal. I couldn’t be more disappointed.”

As a result, Iowa will be the lone college baseball program in the state — Iowa State dropped its team after the 2001 season.

Although the Hawkeyes are not at risk of dropping the all-time series, boasting an all-time record of 67-23-1 against the Panthers, they do recognize the importance of tonight’s meeting.

“I expect us to play extremely well. It’s going to be neat environment at Veterans Stadium. The last time the University of Iowa ever gets an opportunity to play against Northern Iowa,” Iowa head coach Jack Dahm said. “So hopefully, that will get our guys ready to play and approach the field the right way.”

Iowa (14-25, 3-11) is currently in the midst of a three-game losing streak after getting swept at home by Michigan State, and it has dropped 12 of its last 15. Northern Iowa (15-24) is on a comparable bad streak, six games, and it comes into this contest having lost 11 of its last 14 outings.

However, the Hawkeyes are hoping the opportunity to play in a minor-league stadium will help turn things around. Veterans Memorial Stadium is the home of the Cedar Rapids Kernels, the Single-A affiliate for the Los Angeles Angels.

“It’s a neat experience to get into the minor-league stadiums and play,” freshman catcher Dallas Burke said. “It is the same game, but it’s a different atmosphere. You approach it the same way, but it really is a nice experience and it’s definitely something that I look forward to.”

Playing in the minor-league stadiums can also pose extra distractions, as Dahm was quick to point out.

“Going into the pro stadium is always exciting; it’s always a very good environment over there,” he said. “In fact, there are a lot of distractions our guys are going to have to deal with … there are going to be a lot of distractions, so it’s something we’re going to have to prepare for.”

Not the least of which is the fact that this year’s Corridor Classic is the final time these two teams will face off.

“With them cutting their program, it’s kind of a big deal to be the last one,” senior shortstop Justin Toole said. “Hopefully, there will be a big crowd there with quite a few people, and hopefully, we can make it a positive note.”

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