Hawkeye baseball's offense goes flat in loss

BY MATT COZZI | MARCH 29, 2012 6:30 AM

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The Iowa baseball team was on the brink of gaining all the momentum in the eighth inning of its game against Nebraska Omaha on Wednesday night.

Iowa was trailing 3-1, but Maverick pitcher Cole Volkers was as erratic as a pitcher can be. He yielded walks to pinch-hitters Bryan Niedbalski and Sean Flanagan on eight-straight balls to begin the frame, then hit Mike McQuillan in the shoulder.

The bases were loaded. No outs. Iowa's 2-3-4 hitters were coming up to the plate.

The Hawkeyes (9-12) were had a chance to narrow the deficit to one run or maybe even tie the game. Then the Mavericks (9-16) — in their first season as a Division-I program — called right-hander Zach Williamsen out of the bullpen. The power pitcher had a long way to go in order to get out of the inning unscathed.

No matter.

Jake Yacinich struck out. So did Ryan Rumpf. And Phil Keppler.

Just like that, the frame was over, and scoreboard still read 3-1, which also was the final tally on Wednesday at Banks Field.

"That was extremely frustrating," head coach Jack Dahm said. "We have the bases loaded, and the pressure is on them. We need to find a way for them to at least have to make a play, and we didn't do that."

A lack of clutch hitting has been a bit of an issue in the last couple seasons for Dahm's squad.

The Hawkeyes left six runners on base Wednesday night, including the bases-loaded situation in the eighth. In that frame, even two fly outs would have presumably tied the score.

"It's a game about making adjustments, and [Williamsen] had a slider that was a pretty good pitch, and that's all he was throwing," McQuillan said. "You know what you were going to get. In that situation, you have to choke up a little bit and put the ball in play … they had two errors.

"Put the ball in play, and good things will happen."

Iowa was never in a rhythm up to that stage in the game, and the side was retired in the bottom of the ninth.

The pace of the game may have something to do with that; the first three innings took more than an hour and the total time of the game was 2 hours, 44 minutes. Dahm said that pace probably ceased his club's aggressive mentality.

"Instead of being aggressive, we kind of got back on our heels," he said. "I thought our focus was there before the game … but then all of a sudden, the pace kind of got us, and then maybe when we fell behind, too. We need to do a better job in that area."

Iowa will need a quick turnaround if it wants to avoid a series loss in Big Ten play. The Hawkeyes face Indiana this weekend in Bloomington, Ind.

Keppler, who had 1 of Iowa's 4 hits, didn't hesitate when asked what the problem was against the Mavericks. The senior knows the hitting wasn't up to par on Wednesday.

"We didn't come to play today," he said. "Our pitchers definitely threw well enough for us to win, but as an offense, we have to show up and we have to be better than that. We lost the game today because of the offense. There's no other way around it."

Follow DI baseball reporter Matt Cozzi on Twitter.

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