Baseball ready to redeem themselves

BY SETH ROBERTS | APRIL 01, 2011 7:20 AM

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The Iowa baseball team’s Big Ten season kicks off tonight, just 48 hours after the team suffered a series sweep at the hands of South Dakota State.

The Hawkeyes hope that’s enough time to sort out all their problems.

Iowa (9-13) committed eight errors in two games against the Jackrabbits, dropping the squad’s fielding percentage from a Big Ten-best .973 to a fourth-place .969. The Hawkeyes stranded 19 batters in the series. Black and Gold pitchers gave up 17 total runs, although eight of them were assisted by the defense’s sudden ineptness.

None of that is going to work this weekend against Michigan State (15-6). The Spartans have won three of their last four games and enter the series as the only conference team to receive a vote in the USA Today/ESPN Top 25 coaches’ poll.

Rather than worry about the opponent, though, the Hawkeyes are concerning themselves with fixing the blunders from the South Dakota State series. Head coach Jack Dahm said his main concern is straightening out a defense that more closely resembled that of a Little League team than a Division-I program that finished second in its conference tournament last season.

“We have to help our pitching staff out,” Dahm said. “You have a guy out there who, all of the sudden, is throwing extra pitches because we’re not making plays. We need to get that cleaned up.”

Team captain Tyson Blaser admitted the team didn’t do its pitchers any favors during the week, but said there was more to the demoralizing stretch than just some miscues on the field. The redshirt senior catcher and designated hitter was one of two Hawkeyes to say the team was mentally unprepared, especially for the second game of the series.

“I think we proved [in] these last two games that we weren’t as ready to go as we should have been,” he said.

Instead, Blaser said, the emphasis has to be on being ready from the get-go. Third baseman Andrew Ewing agreed, and said correcting the team’s pregame mentality will go a long ways toward taking care of the defensive issues.

“I have to find a way to get myself going, whatever that is,” said Ewing, who committed two errors in the second inning of Wednesday’s loss. “I have to find something that will get my energy level up and get my legs going and that will allow me to get to more balls.”

Defense wasn’t the only thing wrong with the team this week. Iowa only had one multi-run inning in the 25 innings played against the Jackrabbits, which Dahm said was a factor of playing from behind in both games.

“We had opportunities to have a couple big innings, but our hitters started trying to do too much,” the eighth-year coach said. “We have to learn to accept ball four and not try too hard to steal bases when we’re down. All you need to do when you’re down five or six runs is to keep getting base runners.”

All things considered, though, the skipper said he isn’t unhappy with his team’s position as conference play begins.

“We don’t need to make significant changes,” he said. “[But] we need to get back to … playing the game aggressively. If you get strong pitching, if you make plays defensively, and you execute from an offensive standpoint and get timely hits, you’re going to be a very successful team.”

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