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Baseball begins Big Ten slate

BY JORDAN GARRETSON | APRIL 02, 2010 7:30 AM

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The Iowa baseball team crawled to a forgettable 4-19 record in conference play last year, burying itself in the Big Ten cellar.

Injuries were boundless. Defensive errors were plentiful. Runs came at a premium.

But the Hawkeyes see this season as a blank slate.

Iowa (9-13) gets its first opportunity to etch into the fresh tablet with this weekend’s conference-opening three-game set against Michigan State (17-4) in East Lansing, Mich. The first game is set for 2 p.m. today.

The teams meet again at noon on Saturday and April 4.

Struggles like the ones a young Hawkeye squad endured last season are easy to forget. Sophomore Dallas Burke called the ’09 campaign “kind of embarrassing.”

“It’s tough going like we did last year. We were very young,” he said. “That feeling, it gives you that sick taste. You don’t want that.”

Head coach Jack Dahm knows such bitter memories are still present in the back of his players’ minds, particularly the more experienced guys. And while he asked his players to erase last season from their thoughts, he is quick to field the first question that mentality prompts from most outsiders.

“Believe me, we all learned from [last year],” he said.

And Dahm is seeing signs of that added experience.

He knows games such as Wednesday’s 6-5 late-inning comeback victory over South Dakota State were not possible last season. And much to the seventh-year coach’s satisfaction, he’s heard his players echo that thought.

Nonetheless, the Spartans present a tougher hurdle than South Dakota State for the Hawkeyes. Michigan State is off to its best start since 1992 and enters today’s contest having won 11 straight.

But the feeling around the Iowa dugout is tangibly different this time around.

Sophomore Jarred Hippen, who will take the mound today as the Hawkeyes’ starter, admits he’ll have a “few more butterflies” in his stomach before today’s first pitch of the conference season, but he is also more confident in the way the team is playing this time around.

“Last year, we went in back on our heels,” he said. “This year, we’re just balls-to-the wall right now.”

One of the reasons Iowa fell on its heels was a torn ligament in the thumb of then-sophomore catcher Tyson Blaser — an injury that largely dampened Iowa’s chances for a hot start in the Big Ten.

Dahm said every time his squad began to play decent baseball, it seemed to suffer another injury.

The Hawkeyes are much healthier this year. Dahm said the only concern is freshman Dan Sheppard, who won’t be able to play this weekend because of a quadriceps injury.

He also said junior center fielder Kurtis Muller tweaked his hamstring in Wednesday’s game, but the injury doesn’t appear to be serious. And the health of the center fielder is crucial to the phase of the game Dahm is looking for the most immediate improvement in — defense.

He knows fewer errors will be absolutely crucial for a successful conference run.

“This is a club that has to continue to gain confidence,” Dahm said. “Our defense needs to get a lot more consistent. If we can do that, we can beat anyone in this conference.”


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