Iowa baseball travels to Target Field for three-game series

BY MATT COZZI | APRIL 29, 2011 7:20 AM

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For the Iowa baseball team, this is a make or break weekend.

The Hawkeyes will travel to Minneapolis today for a three-game series against Minnesota at Target Field, the home field of the Minnesota Twins.

Head coach Jack Dahm's squad enters the series with the Golden Gophers at the very bottom of the Big Ten standings. Iowa (15-23, 4-8 Big Ten) sits all by itself in 10th place heading into tonight's action around the conference.

While the Hawkeyes are in the top half of the Big Ten in team ERA, they are third to last in batting average.

If the offense continues to falter, it will be hard for the Hawkeyes to climb out of last place.

"Our pitching staff has put us in a position to win games," Dahm said. "But we're not getting it done offensively. We can't worry about what's three weeks ahead, we have to get better and stay in the moment. That goes for every person on the coaching staff to the players."

The Hawkeyes have lost their first four conference series, winning one game each against Michigan State, Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan. In all four weekend matchups, Iowa has struggled getting off to a quick start or the offense has failed to give its starting pitchers adequate run support.

Iowa's top two pitchers, Jarred Hippen and Matt Dermody, have both suffered tough-luck losses recently. Against the Hoosiers on April 17, Hippen pitched a complete game in a 2-1 loss at Banks Field. Dermody went 82⁄3 innings in a 2-1 loss Michigan on April 23.

Second baseman Mike McQuillan said inconsistency on offense and defense has put Iowa's starting pitchers in trouble early on in games.

"Defensively, there is pace of the game that you want to have," he said. "You want the defense to be on its toes and stay in the game. If there is no pace to the first couple innings, it's hard to come back as an offense and makes it hard for our pitchers to go out and win."

Iowa will try to develop a pace early and often against the Golden Gophers (14-16, 6-6) this weekend. Minnesota, the preseason favorite to win the Big Ten by numerous college baseball publications, has bounced back from a poor start to its 2011 campaign.

Head coach John Anderson's team went into Bloomington, Ind., last weekend and swept the Hoosiers in three games. Going into the series, Indiana was tied for first and Minnesota was second to last. Now, Minnesota is tied for fourth place in the conference and sits just one game out of first.

For Iowa, McQuillan and outfielder Chett Zeise lead the team offensively. McQuillan's .333 average is first on the team and among the top 15 in the Big Ten. Zeise is hitting at a .302 clip and leads the team with two home runs.

The Hawkeyes will try to bounce back against Minnesota starting tonight after losing two out three last weekend at home.

"We all need to look ourselves in the mirror," senior pitcher Zach Kenyon said. "We need to figure it out as a whole team, and we need to improve this weekend. That starts [tonight]."

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