Freshman comes up big on baseball Senior Day

BY SETH ROBERTS | MAY 09, 2011 7:20 AM

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Sunday was Senior Day for the Iowa baseball team, but a freshman stole the spotlight.

Rookie outfielder Taylor Zeutenhorst knocked in both the tying and winning runs as the Hawkeyes (18-27, 7-11 Big Ten) rallied to defeat Penn State (26-18, 8-10), 2-1, in 10 innings at Banks Field.

“That’s the way it’s been all year — people have stepped up when they’ve needed to, in big situations,” senior shortstop Kurt Lee said. “To be a freshman, and young, and inexperienced and come up in those situations, that’s incredible.”

With the bases loaded and one out in the 10th inning, Zeutenhorst slapped the first pitch he saw from Penn State reliever Neal Herring through the right side of the infield to score Lee and give the Hawkeyes only their third win since April 17.

When he emerged from the bottom of Iowa’s celebratory dog pile, the 6-4, 210-pound freshman said he approached the at-bat as if he had two strikes against him. He choked up on the bat, shortened his swing, and did just enough with Herring’s offering to dribble the ball past second baseman Luis Montesinos.

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“I just stuck with my routine there,” Zeutenhorst said. “We were trying too hard [at the plate] until the end of the game. Then, we started putting the ball on the ground and hitting the ball a little better. We started treating everything like we had two strikes and going out there and having fun.
“We press sometimes early in games — we needed to relax, and that’s what we did.”

Zeutenhorst’s relaxed demeanor also paid off in the eighth frame, when he tied the game with an almost identical single against starter Mike Franklin. Senior center fielder Trevor Willis opened the inning with a perfectly placed bunt, and the freshman drove him in two outs later.

The Sheldon, Iowa, native was a thorn in the Nittany Lions’ side all weekend long, driving in four runs over three games as Iowa won its first conference series of the year — the Hawkeyes beat Penn State, 11-4, on May 6 and lost, 3-2, on May 7. Zeutenhorst’s composure at the plate caught the eye of senior catcher Tyson Blaser, who said the freshman has been invaluable as the team’s spark of late.

“It’s the same thing he’s been showing us the past few weekends now,” Blaser said. “He’s going to come in, and he battles for us. He’s having a great time up there, he’s having fun. He’s swinging it free, and it’s been showing. He’s been getting some big hits for us.”

The two weekend wins also keep Iowa’s Big Ten Tournament hopes alive. The Hawkeyes are now just one game out of sixth place, the tournament cut-off point, and they will play their final six games against teams that will likely appear in the postseason. Head coach Jack Dahm said he thought Sunday’s game was a must-win, and he told his players midway through the game they needed to step up at the plate.

“If you don’t win that game right there, you basically have to sweep the last two weekends,” Dahm said. “I said, ‘Hey fellas — if you want the rest of the games to mean something the rest of the year, we need to get this win.’ ”

The offense responded at the right time, but the eighth-year coach also gave credit to his pitching staff and defense for playing well enough that two runs would be enough to win the game.

“Our pitching was tremendous, with [starter Patrick] Lala and [reliever Tim] Fangman,” he said. “Then, the job our guys did defensively allowed us to stay in that ball game and finally find a way to scratch across a couple runs.”

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