Baseball set for home opener


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Iowa head coach Jack Dahm saw his baseball club compete well against tough competition throughout its season-opening 17-game road trip.

Now, returning to Iowa City, he expects to see results.

The Hawkeyes (5-12) open their home schedule this weekend with a three-game series against Western Illinois (5-11). The first game is set for 6:30 p.m. today at Banks Field.

The teams will meet again at 1 p.m. Saturday and March 28.

Iowa will send sophomore Jarred Hippen (1-2) to the mound for the home-opener. The 6-3 left-hander boasts a 3.06 ERA through five starts.

Tonight’s contest — which comes only three days after the Hawkeyes practiced outside in their home stadium for the first time this season — presents a welcome opportunity after a grueling road stretch.

“These guys are pretty physically tired and mentally drained right now,” Dahm said at Tuesday’s practice. “You leave every Thursday, get back late on Sunday. You have class Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and you leave on Thursday again. That’s pretty draining. To play your first 17 games on the road, that’s tough.”

But Dahm knew exactly what he was doing. There’s a reason Iowa opened its season in that manner, which Hippen calls the team’s equivalent of “spring training.”

Facing top-notch competition such as Texas — which boasts one of the best pitching staffs Dahm has ever seen — and Kansas, which took two games out of three from No. 4 Louisiana State in Baton Rouge, the seventh-year head coach was preparing his team for the grind of the long season that awaits.

The Hawkeyes also learned they could compete with some of the best in the country. They earned a 5-3 victory at then-25th-ranked Kansas on March 5. Next, Iowa pushed then-third-ranked Texas to extra innings in Austin before falling, 2-1, on March 12.

There’s no doubt the trip served as a confidence booster.

“It helps a lot,” Hippen said. “None of the teams [we face] are going to be Texas-caliber. We know that we can compete with those teams, so we should definitely be able to compete with the Big Ten teams.”

Dahm has seen the team excel in all phases of the game at some point. There have been outstanding offensive and defensive games and well-pitched contests as well.

Now, Dahm wants to see his team make a higher climb — he wants to see more consistency.

This weekend, he hopes to see a particular improvement in hitting. The Hawkeyes plated 49 runs on 70 hits in the first five games of the year, but they have scored just 39 runs in the last 12 games.

One of the players, Dahm, will look for to jolt the lineup is senior right fielder Ryan Durant. The Eldridge, Iowa, native hit .370 last year, but he is hitting just .295 so far this season.

He said it’s a matter of getting in a groove with his swing, having confidence in his hands, and staying relaxed at the plate.

“I’ve had a couple really good outings and a couple not so good outings,” Durant said. “At the plate, I just need to stay more consistent and have quality at bats.”

Ultimately, the Iowa skipper doesn’t think it will be long before his club begins to reel off more victories.

“I can tell you this much, our players are very upbeat about our potential,” Dahm said. “We just have to find ways to win games. We’ve had some letdowns, but I think you’re going to see this team go on a nice run here pretty quick.”

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