New lineup puts a charge into Hawkeye baseball

BY MATT COZZI | APRIL 04, 2011 7:20 AM

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A different lineup brought about tremendously different results for the Iowa baseball team.

After losing the previous two games to Michigan State, the Hawkeyes played with a vengeance on Sunday. Iowa defeated the Spartans, 19-7, using a 17-hit barrage at Banks Field.

The offensive prowess was in part because of significant changes in the Hawkeye batting order.

Head coach Jack Dahm penciled in a completely different lineup on Sunday than in games past, and one look at the box score shows it was a positive change.

Iowa hitters reached base 25 times, and five of Iowa’s nine starters got on base at least three times. Tyson Blaser led the Hawkeyes, going 3-for-4 with two RBIs.

“Our lineup one through nine was pretty solid today,” senior Kurt Lee said. “We strung together some good innings. We hit the ball pretty well today and had guys on when we needed them. To have [the team] hit the ball like that up and down the lineup, that’s exactly what we wanted.”

Since Blaser came back from a shoulder injury last week, the Hawkeyes have tried different combinations with their lineup. Sunday was no exception.

Notable changes in the first Big Ten win of the season included Trevor Willis going from leadoff to the ninth spot in the order. Lee hit leadoff instead, with Zach McCool batting second and returning to third base. The senior started five games in left field last week.

Additionally, the first-base platoon of Bryan Niedbalski and Phil Keppler both started against Michigan State. Niedbalski was at first, and Keppler played left field.

Junior second baseman Mike McQuillan was the only player to remain in his usual lineup position. On Sunday, the Evergreen Park, Ill., native was 3-for-6 in the third spot.

McQuillan said the Hawkeyes’ array of lineups is a testament to the team’s depth and versatility.

“It’s a compliment to our coaches and players knowing that we can [start] a guy wherever on the field, and they’ll produce,” he said. “We’re just going to go out there and play.”

Following two bad losses to open Big Ten play on April 1-2, the Hawkeyes sought something different from the minor day-to-day changes that they previously had made. Through five innings Sunday, Iowa had scored as many runs as the two previous games combined.

“We wanted to change it up a little bit,” Dahm said. “When you’re struggling, sometimes you have to do things to improve the results.”

The eight-year Iowa coach said Keith Brand stepped up for the Hawkeyes on Sunday, as well as Keppler. Brand had a team-high three runs batted in for Iowa, and Keppler went 2-for-4.

Another byproduct of the changes was the re-emergence of Willis’ offensive production.

After having success early on in nonconference games, the center fielder has struggled recently. Batting ninth, Willis went 2-for-4 with a triple off Michigan State pitchers.

Dahm said he would continue to tinker with the order, including Willis’ position.

“Trevor is a big part of our offense,” Dahm said. “I was trying to figure out where to put him in the lineup, and then I decided to put him in the nine hole to be like that second leadoff guy. We want his speed in the lineup.

“We’re not sure what we’re going to do from here on out as far as our offense goes. We shook it up today, but we’ll figure out what’s best.”

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