Iowa baseball set for series with Michigan

BY MATT COZZI | APRIL 22, 2011 7:20 AM

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Despite being at the bottom of the conference standings, the Iowa baseball team is not out of contention just yet.

The Hawkeyes (14-20, 3-6 Big Ten) had an identical conference record at this point last season, and their prospects to advance to the postseason looked dim. Down the stretch, though, Iowa won eight of its last 10 games to make the Big Ten Tournament. In the Big Ten, the top six teams in the standings qualify for the conference tournament in Columbus, Ohio.

Perhaps then, Iowa's 2010 run provides encouragement for a somewhat gloomy outlook this season — the Hawkeyes are tied for last place.

Head coach Jack Dahm's squad will take on Michigan this weekend for a three-game series at Banks Field.

"If you pull out the conference standings from last year, we're in a similar situation," Dahm said. "I think the biggest thing [this year] is that we had high expectations. We've had an opportunity to win all of our conference games, but we either haven't been able to close it out or fall short by a couple of runs."

Iowa has not won a Big Ten series this season — it has won only one game each against Michigan State, Illinois, and Indiana.

Through the first nine games — a little more than a third of the way into the conference slate — the Hawkeyes are in the middle of the pack in almost all major statistical categories. As a team, Iowa is hitting .267 in league play, and its pitchers have combined for a 4.50 ERA.

"Compared with [last year], we've played a lot better baseball this season," senior Trevor Willis said. "We're executing a lot better. Just a little more timely hitting, and we should be fine."

Recently, the Hawkeyes' hitters have not been able to keep up with the squad's starting pitching.

Last weekend against Indiana, Iowa starters allowed 6 runs, but the offense scored just 3 runs in three games.

Ace Jarred Hippen has been the subject of a lack of run support this year, although Friday games are usually low scoring. In college baseball, teams usually send their top pitchers out to the mound for Friday contests.

When Hippen starts, the Hawkeyes have only been able to score 3.5 runs per game. The left-handed Hippen is third on the team in ERA, but is only 1-4 on the season.

"We're not scoring enough runs for [Hippen] on Friday nights," second baseman Mike McQuillan said. "That's not acceptable. We need to get him runs, he's our No. 1 pitcher, and we need to support him."

If Iowa wants to gain some ground in the Big Ten, this is the weekend to do so. Michigan (11-24, 4-5) lost a midweek game to lowly Eastern Michigan on Wednesday, and the Wolverines are last in both overall batting average and ERA in the Big Ten.

The Hawkeyes should not only be able to win their three-game home series against Michigan this weekend, they could sweep their opponent.

"We can't worry about anyone else but ourselves," Dahm said. "We have to be ready pitch to pitch and have fun out there. We're going to try to control what we can control."

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