Iowa baseball faces character test against Western Illinois

BY BEN SCHUFF | APRIL 10, 2012 6:30 AM

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It's gut-check time for the Iowa baseball team.

Tonight's game against Western Illinois takes on a little added significance for the Hawkeyes following a crushing loss to Nebraska on Sunday. Iowa gave up 5 runs to the Cornhuskers in the final two innings to blow a 4-run lead and lose, 9-8.

"Baseball can reveal what kind of character you have, and we're going to find out what kind of character our team has," Iowa manager Jack Dahm said. "How we respond to that with the game [tonight] is going to be the big thing."

Sunday's late-inning falter resulted in Dahm's squad losing the series in Lincoln, Neb., instead of winning two of three. Iowa won the series opener on April 6, 4-3.

"That's one of those weekends where if you win that, it can really spur you on," the ninth-year Hawkeye manager said. "Honestly, the way we lost it — and the way we played — can really spur us on, too, if we handle it the right way.

"I told our guys how we handle this might make the difference in our season. It can take us either direction."

Freshman Andrew Hedrick (2-0, 2.95 ERA) will try to lead Iowa in the right direction from the mound tonight. The left-hander will make his fifth start of the year for the Black and Gold; Iowa is 3-1 in his previous four starts. Dahm said he anticipates freshman Nick Hibbing will get some work out of the bullpen as well against Western Illinois.

How Hedrick and his teammates start in the early innings could go a long way in erasing thoughts of Sunday's collapse.

Seniors Mike McQuillan and Phil Keppler both said the 9-8 loss to Nebraska still lingered in their minds when they spoke to The Daily Iowan on Monday.

"I still can't wrap my head around it — it hurts," McQuillan said. "It's on each guy himself to move on."

Redshirt freshman Jake Mangler emphasized the importance of getting off to a quick start against the Leathernecks when asked if the game carries extra significance because of what happened against the Cornhuskers.

"We don't want to come out flat," he said. "If we come out and play the way we should right away with a lot of energy, I think that will wash away the memory of Sunday's game."

But forgetting about the Nebraska debacle isn't something all members of the team will do — at least not Keppler and McQuillan, who each ride five-game hitting streaks into tonight's contest. Both players said the team can learn from that game going forward.

"You want to get past the fact it was a tough game," said Keppler, who was named the Big Ten Player of the Week on Monday. "We felt like maybe we played a little better than [Nebraska] and we had that game, but we'll definitely keep it in the back of our heads. It's great motivation — that game right there is enough to keep us hungry for the rest of the season."

Follow DI baseball reporter Ben Schuff on Twitter.

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