Hawkeye baseball has high hopes for 2011


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The Iowa baseball team has seven returning starters.

It has one of the deepest pitching staffs in the Big Ten.

The Hawkeyes have a plethora of newcomers — including heralded junior-college players and highly regarded freshmen.

The squad was two wins away from securing an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament.

Experience will be vital in the conference race this season — which is expected to be wide-open — and the team has a lot of it going into the 2011 season.

With just one week remaining until the Hawkeyes play their first game, head coach Jack Dahm and players met with the media on Thursday afternoon to discuss the team’s prospects.

Despite losing some key seniors from last year’s squad, Iowa boasts one of the most experienced rosters. Last season’s squad won 11 of its last 14 games and finished third in the Big Ten regular season.

“We have to learn to play pitch-by-pitch,” Dahm said. “What we learned last year is that when we quit worrying about winning, we start winning … It’s a process.”

If the Hawkeyes are going to finish in the top three of the Big Ten, as some publications are predicting, the pitching staff will probably be a significant reason. Ten pitchers return for the Hawkeyes.

Jarred Hippen anchors the starting rotation after breaking out last year as the team’s No. 1 starting pitcher. He finished the 2010 season 6-4 with a 3.71 ERA.

The southpaw has earned some accolades, being named College Baseball Daily’s Preseason Big Ten Pitcher of the Year.

Despite the recognition, he is more focused on the Hawkeyes’ depth on the bump as a whole.

“We got great guys coming back; I feel really great about our staff,” he said. “You just have to take it one day at a time.”

Hippen noted the two other probable weekend starters — senior Nick Brown and sophomore Matt Dermody.

He said he thinks he will be the No. 3 starter. The sophomore left-hander won the elimination game against Purdue last season at the Big Ten Tournament in Columbus, Ohio.

The Norwalk, Iowa, native said he believes his performance in last season’s conference tournament will be a steppingstone for this spring.

“[Winning against Purdue] really built my confidence,” Dermody said. “Knowing I can out there and do it, get the job done.”

The offense will be led by third baseman Zach McCool.

While his height may be deceiving, there is no secret to how good of a hitter McCool has become.

The 5-7 senior hit .344 in 2010 while making the transition from second to third base.

Iowa has plenty of formidable candidates for its infield positions, and Dahm said there would be competition among the positions before the team’s first game on Feb. 18.

McCool said the competition is good, though, and the depth is important to have throughout a 55-game season.

“We all know each other and how we play,” he said. “It’s easier to make plays when you’re familiar with everyone around you. We all have each other’s backs, so that’s something we’re looking forward to.”

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