Iowa baseball aims for consistency as Big Ten begins

BY MATT COZZI | MARCH 23, 2012 6:30 AM

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Left-hander Jarred Hippen knows it. Head coach Jack Dahm frequently brings it up when asked about the Big Ten. First baseman Mike McQuillan has talked about it before.

The entire Iowa baseball team appears locked in to what seems to be the Hawkeyes' underlying theme heading into conference play: In order to be in contention for a Big Ten title, consistency is key.

"We're further along this year than we've been in years past," Hippen said. "It's just a matter of putting everything together. Some days, like [Wednesday against Grand View], we got 20 runs and only gave up 1. That's what we have to do the rest of the season."

That trek toward consistent success will begin today with first pitch against Northwestern (7-12) at 4:05 p.m. at Banks Field. Iowa (7-10) has games on Saturday and March 25 as well to close out the three-game series.

The Big Ten — which historically places only one team in the NCAA Tournament — doesn't necessarily possess a favorite in the conference despite the season being a month old.

Only five schools have winning percentages above .500, so any team could put itself in contention for the title with a good start.

Dahm and the Hawkeyes say their goal is to win every series, either by sweeping or by taking two-of-three games each weekend — regardless of the opponent. Only then will Iowa be in the upper tier of the Big Ten standings.

"It doesn't matter who we play, it's if we're ready to play," Dahm said. "If we're focused, we can compete with anybody in the country. I'm more concerned about us."

Dahm said he likes his club's chances if Iowa gets off to a reasonable start and takes advantage of being at home for the first conference series of the year.

"We have as good of a chance as anybody [to win the league]," he said. "With our pitching, and if we continue to make progress defensively, I think we can make a good run at this thing."

Iowa hasn't faced the Northwestern since 2009, when the Hawkeyes split two games against the Wildcats in Evanston, Ill. The third scheduled game in that series was canceled.

Hippen, Iowa's No. 1 pitcher, takes the mound in Iowa's opening Big Ten game today; the left-hander is 1-2 this season with a 3.28 ERA in a team-high 35 2/3 innings pitched. Dahm will likely send junior southpaw Matt Dermody (0-2, 5.87) to the hill on Saturday, and rookie lefty Sasha Kuebel (1-0, 2.82) will pitch on March 25.

Northwestern will likely send a trio of right-handers to oppose Iowa's left-handed rotation. Francis Brooke (1-1, 1.95) is scheduled to face Hippen, Brandon Magallones (3-0, 5.09) will pitch against Dermody, and Zach Morton (0-4, 4.20) will take the mound opposite Kuebel.

McQuillan said he's confident the Black and Gold's ace will set the tone for the rest of the weekend.

"We got Hippen going, and we're in position to win any time he's on the mound — even if he doesn't have his best stuff, he's still really good," McQuillan said. "He's going to come out ready to pitch like he always does, and hopefully set us up to win the series."

Follow DI baseball reporter Matt Cozzi on Twitter.

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