Sandquist clears his head

BY SETH ROBERTS | MARCH 30, 2011 7:20 AM

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The Iowa baseball team’s 7-4 loss to South Dakota State on Tuesday evening was strange.

The game went into 14 innings but only lasted four hours. The Hawkeyes committed four errors. Second baseman Mike McQuillan, normally one of the team’s best hitters, struck out four times.

Strangest of all, though, was the performance of Iowa starting pitcher Ricky Sandquist.

He was brilliant.

The right-hander turned in the best performance of his starting career against the Jackrabbits, throwing 61⁄3 innings while giving up just five hits and striking out four.

Sandquist, a sophomore from Fort Dodge, Iowa, has had a tumultuous year. He entered the game with a 0-3 record and 10.97 ERA. In three starts, he surrendered 21 hits, 14 earned runs, and nine walks in just 21 innings of work.

The 6-4, 185-pound fireballer’s last start, on March 19 against Gonzaga, was particularly indicative of the young pitcher’s year: Sandquist faced 13 batters and gave up five runs in two innings.

“I went out there with too much up in my head,” he said. “I still had good stuff — I had good command and all three of my pitches were good — but I was thinking about other things and worrying about coaches and fulfilling everybody’s expectations.

“When I went out there with a clear head is when I started pitching well.”

The new mentality may signal the turning point in the 20-year-old’s career.

Sandquist was a successful reliever last year, appearing in 16 games, but showed up on coach Jack Dahm’s starting pitcher radar after blowing away hitters during the team’s autumn season. The eighth-year skipper called Sandquist his top-ranked pitcher during the fall, but noticed the lanky sophomore had a tendency to over-think his mechanics during games.

“We have a saying with him — we want him to care less, not be careless,” Dahm said. “Just go out there and trust your stuff. I thought he really did a good job of that [on Tuesday]. He looked a lot more free and easy, and made a lot of really good pitches.”

The result was a performance arguably at least as impressive as that of South Dakota State ace Blake Treinen, who drew droves of radar gun-wielding professional scouts to Banks Field.

And while the Hawkeyes had to swallow a tough loss, Sandquist’s teammates appreciated his efforts.

Freshman catcher Keith Brand, who caught Sandquist’s disastrous start against Gonzaga, said he was particularly impressed with the noticeable change to his pitcher’s approach on the mound.

“He came out today … [with a] badass mentality, and he threw the ball hard,” Brand said. “[He’s] maturing and deciding he needs to go out there and pound the zone. He has good enough stuff that he can go out there, throw strikes, and get a lot of outs.”

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