Iowa baseball wins Big Ten-opening series

BY MATT COZZI | MARCH 26, 2012 6:30 AM

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Nick Brown found himself in a jam.

The Iowa closer needed just one out to secure an Big Ten-opening series win for the Hawkeyes on Sunday afternoon, but had allowed two walks and loaded the bases.

Brown induced Northwestern outfielder Walker Moses to hit a dribbler about three feet in front of home plate, and catcher Keith Brand threw a strike to first for the third out and the win.

The 3-1 victory gave the Hawkeyes (9-11, 2-1 Big Ten) their first conference-opening series win since 1998. Head coach Jack Dahm's squad defeated the Wildcats (8-14, 1-2) on March 23 but lost on March 24 at Banks Field. Iowa is in four-way tie for first place in the Big Ten.

"You can't worry about the next guy up — you just have to keep going," Brown said of his ninth inning situation. "They were being patient … That closer role is fun; I like that butterfly feeling and adrenaline rush that I get in those one or two innings I get to throw."

Iowa was able to get on the scoreboard fairly early in Sunday's contest. The Black and Gold scored two of their runs in the bottom of the fourth inning.

Senior Phil Keppler led off the frame with a single up the middle and later stole second. Chett Zeise reached base on an error, and Keppler scored a few pitches later when Northwestern catcher Geoff Rowan's tried to catch Zeise stealing second but two-hopped the base with his throw.

Zeise would later score on Brand's single to give the Hawkeyes a 2-1 advantage.

Freshman starter Sasha Kuebel (2-0) cruised from there, and finished by yielding just 2 hits and 1 run in 7 innings. Brown secured his third save by pitching the final two frames of the game, in which he struck out 3 Wildcat hitters.

"We've been doing a good job lately of getting some timely hits," Keppler said. "You look at any good team, and that's what they're doing. If we keep doing that, it should make for a great season."

Keppler went 2-for-3 on the day, raising his average to .310. Fellow senior Mike McQuillan went 1-for-3 with a run scored to cap his hot-hitting weekend.

McQuillan — who is second on the team with a .352 batting average — tallied 6 hits in 11 at-bats over the three-game stretch.

The infielder said it was crucial to win two of the three games to begin Big Ten play. He said the atmosphere around the club is a different than it has been years past, citing that the Hawkeyes hadn't won an opening Big Ten series in his collegiate career until Sunday.

"Since I've been here, I don't think we've opened up with a series win in the Big Ten," he said. "It takes the pressure off the team. Now it's time for us to get on a roll, and I think we'll be right in the thick of it."

So, for the first time in 14 years — nine of those coming with Dahm at the helm — the Hawkeyes have solid momentum following the first weekend of Big Ten games.

Dahm and the players said that's important — but that it's still just one series.

"Hopefully, this will continue to build our confidence," Dahm said. "But it's only one weekend. You're 2-1 to start, and that's a lot better than digging yourself in a hole. I'm happy for our guys, but we'll get back to work. We have to continue to win each series."

Follow DI baseball reporter Matt Cozzi on Twitter.

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