Baseball continues search for offense

BY SETH ROBERTS | MAY 13, 2011 7:20 AM

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The end of the Iowa baseball season is rapidly approaching, but the Hawkeyes' offensive struggles have yet to be remedied.

Iowa (18-27, 7-11 Big Ten) has scored 3 or fewer runs in three of its five games this month, and 2 or fewer runs on 17 occasions this year. The team is batting a collective .263, the fourth-lowest average in the conference, and it is in the bottom half in the league in runs, hits, and home runs.

On several occasions, the Hawkeyes haven't even been responsible when they have been able to push runs across. Iowa has scored 221 times, but only 159 of them have been tacked on to opposing pitchers as earned runs. In other words, more than a quarter (28 percent) of Iowa's offensive production has been created, at least in some part, by defensive miscues — the best example came last weekend, when Penn State committed eight errors and conceded 10 unearned runs in Iowa's 11-4 win on May 6.

It doesn't help that the team hasn't been able to practice for much of the last week because of final exams, either. The Black and Gold practiced for the first time this week on Thursday, hours before they jumped on a bus to travel to Ohio State (21-22, 10-8) for the second-to-last conference series of the year.

Still, head coach Jack Dahm said the time off might end up being a good thing for his team as it attempts a late-season surge into the Big Ten Tournament field.

"Now all we have to worry about is baseball — the student is out of the student-athlete," he said. "Sometimes, it's good to get away from things, too. It's a grind traveling as much as our guys do, and the academics and everything else that we have. It was a long week of finals for the guys, but hopefully, they get energized this weekend."

Dahm said his players should be helped by the recent success they have had in Ohio State's Bill Davis Stadium. The Hawkeyes won three games in the ballpark during last year's Big Ten Tournament, and the eighth-year coach said they are going to replicate as much of that stretch as possible — they're even staying in the same hotel.

Duplicating last year's offensive output might be more difficult — the Hawkeyes scored 7, 8, and 11 runs in their three wins in Columbus — but third baseman Chett Zeise said it could be more important to score early than to score often.

"We want to get out and hit them in the mouth right away," he said. "It's a huge plan for us to get out on the right foot, especially being on the road."

Dahm said he doesn't want to put pressure on his team, and he hasn't spoken to his players about the offense at all this week. Instead, he wants to emphasize pitching and defense.

"We have the second-best pitching staff in league play," he said. "If we make plays behind our pitching staff, I think we can keep the score down."

The pressure to win will be present no matter what, though, as the Hawkeyes are just one game out of the sixth-place cutoff for the conference tournament — but Dahm said his team has to treat all games the same from here on out.

"Tournament time has started now," Dahm said. "We feel we have a good chance to make that conference tournament if we go out and win these next two series. Of course, we need help — but we can't worry about that, we have to go out and play good, solid baseball."

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