Baseball to play Western Illinois for fourth time

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

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Joe Mauer played a season at Modern Woodmen Park. So did Rick Ankiel, and ditto for Jim Edmonds.

Members of the Iowa baseball team will join the list of luminaries to have graced the field tonight. The Hawkeyes will travel to Davenport to face Western Illinois at the home of the St. Louis Cardinals' Single-A affiliate, the Quad City River Bandits, at 6:30 p.m.

The Hawkeyes (13-20, 3-6 Big Ten) said they won't be awestruck when they take the field at Modern Woodmen — although catcher Tyson Blaser did admit a minor-league park carries a different atmosphere than, say, Banks Field.

"You're playing in a park where minor-leaguers are playing, and that's where you want to be one day," the redshirt senior said. "It adds a little bit of something special and gives both teams a little more energy."

The energy could be just what the doctor ordered for a struggling Hawkeye squad. The team has dropped five of its last seven games, and the power surge that translated into 35 runs in two games is long gone. Iowa scored just two runs in a three-game series with Indiana last weekend.

It doesn't help that a cold, misty rain kept the team from practicing on Tuesday. The Hawkeyes went bowling instead, an activity that head coach Jack Dahm said was meant to release some of his players' tension.

"We decided our guys needed to go out and have some fun," he told Hawkeyesports.com. "We're pressing a little bit, [and] losing a lot of close ball games. We need to realize baseball is a fun game, so we're going to have a little fun here today, and hopefully, that translates onto the baseball field for us."

The team seemed to enjoy the excursion — pitcher Jarred Hippen, who bowled a 213, called it a "great bonding experience" — and could also benefit from recent history. The Hawkeyes have taken two straight from the Leathernecks (11-24, 3-5 Summit League), winning 5-4 in Iowa City on March 26 and 6-2 in Macomb, Ill., on March 27.

Iowa also came out on top the last time it took on Western Illinois at Modern Woodmen. The Black and Gold slugged 16 hits and scored 14 runs in the first two innings of a 20-7 beatdown on April 21, 2009.

Blaser, who was unable to play in that game because of a torn thumb ligament, said the team isn't satisfied with history. A 2-for-8 weekend against Indiana dropped his batting average to .278, and the 23-year-old said the Hawkeyes have plenty of work to do.

"We've been watching a lot of film and trying to stay with our approaches and have competitive at-bats," he said. "That's our big thing. We want to make sure we're not swinging at bad pitches and that we're up there competing with the bat, going deep in counts, and trying to get a good pitch to hit to move the baseball."

The pitching will have to shoulder some of the load, too. Blaser said he expects sophomore Ricky Sandquist to take the hill tonight, and the erratic righty will have to pitch better than he has the majority of this season — he has posted a 1-3 record and 8.03 ERA through six starts.

"[Sandquist needs to] be consistently in the zone with his off-speed [pitches]," Blaser said. "He needs to get ahead of guys … You need to be able to get over a curve ball or changeup and get ahead in the count so they're not sitting on a first-pitch fastball."

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