Baseball still optimistic

BY SETH ROBERTS | MAY 03, 2011 7:20 AM

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Jarred Hippen became the seventh pitcher in Iowa history to throw a one-hitter when he handcuffed Minnesota on April 29, but he has to be the unluckiest guy in the world.

He lost the game, 1-0.

That's just how the season has gone for Hippen and the Hawkeyes. The team was a preseason pick to finish in the top half of the Big Ten, but the Black and Gold sit in last place with a 5-10 record (16-25 overall) with just nine league games left. They have lost every Big Ten series this year, and the squad's longest winning streak of the year was a paltry three games.

"We've been [a] very inconsistent team all year long," head coach Jack Dahm said. "I thought we'd be a lot more consistent this year, but it hasn't happened."

The result has been a season several players referred to as "frustrating," and in many ways, Hippen has been affected more than any other Hawkeye. The Iowa offense has given him fewer than 4 runs in six of his 11 starts, despite averaging almost eight hits per game when the preseason Big Ten Pitcher of the Year takes the hill. The Black and Gold wasted his one-hit gem by failing to score at all on April 29 — although Chett Zeise was thrown out at home in the sixth inning — and Hippen admitted he has noticed the lack of run support.

"I've thrown really well in a lot of games, and we've come out on the wrong side of them," he said. "I'm numb to it now because it's happened so many times this year."

The Rock Falls, Ill., native's 2-5 record hides a 3.39 earned run average that is ninth-best among Big Ten pitchers with at least 10 starts, and Dahm said he has been impressed with how his ace has handled the team's offensive struggles.

"[He understands] he can only control what he can control," the eighth-year coach said. "That's what he does on the mound, and we've talked a lot about that. There was a time or two where he might have gotten a little frustrated, but we've talked about it, and he's handled it well."

Now, Dahm said, the Hawkeyes have to relax at the plate and build on the momentum from their 7-1, series-ending win over the Gophers on Sunday. If the bats come alive and pitchers continue to perform at a high level, he said, the team still has a shot to make the Big Ten Tournament for the second year in a row.

Iowa is last in the league but just two games out of sixth place, which is the cutoff for the tournament. All nine of the squad's remaining conference games are against opponents that, as of now, are slated to appear in the tournament, and second baseman Mike McQuillan said he and his teammates control their own destiny.

"With three weekends left, it's time to buckle down and get the job done," he said. "It's a challenge for us to go out these next three weekends and win three series. We'll see what happens, but right now, the goal is to go out and win today's game and then move on to the next day."

Still, McQuillan said, he didn't want to classify the team's last nine games as "must-win."

"That's just putting pressure on yourself," the Evergreen Park, Ill., native said. "That's one thing we've done this year — we've put pressure on ourselves, and it makes it harder to play the game that way.

"It's three weekends, and nine games to win. That's all it is for us."

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