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Notebook: Raw baseball Hawkeyes ready to fly in 2013

BY TOM CLOS | FEBRUARY 12, 2013 5:00 AM

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The last time the Iowa baseball program appeared in the Big Ten Tournament, all but five of its current players were still in high school.

The last time the Hawkeyes danced in the NCAA Tournament, not one member of the roster had even been born.

So, welcome to the great unknown that is the 2013 Iowa baseball team.

To say the Hawkeyes are young is a grave understatement. The Black and Gold feature 24 underclassmen, four juniors, and five seniors.

Only two seniors, catcher Dan Sheppard and starting pitcher Matt Dermody, are expected to make an every-day impact in the lineup.

Conversely, five sophomores are expected to carry the daily workload in outfielders Eric Toole and Kris Goodman, second baseman Jake Mangler, third baseman Nick Day, and shortstop Jake Yacinich.

Yacinich returns as the key to the bunch following a banner freshman campaign in which he hit .292 with 8 doubles and 24 RBIs. The native Iowan was recently a preseason All-Big Ten selection by College Sports Madness.

“I’m excited. It’s only my second year here, but there’s a lot of good chemistry,” he said. “All the guys are tight, and there are some good leaders here, too.”

The Des Moines product noted that because the roster is so youth-driven, the sophomore has taken it upon himself to pass on whatever he can to the latest crop of freshmen.

“[Leadership] kind of comes with the position; they call shortstop the ‘captain of the infield,’ ” Yacinich said. “It’s a different perspective from freshman year; instead of always looking for advice, I can give it now, too.”

Sophomore Sasha Kuebel could stand to give a few pointers as well after earning freshman All-American honors a season ago. In 13 starts as a rookie, the St. Louis native went 6-0 with a 2.67 earned run average and two complete games.

Kuebel and Yacinich are two big reasons why 10th-year Iowa head coach Jack Dahm believes his Hawkeyes, though young on paper, have a shot to return to the Big Ten Tournament.

“We’re going to have a lot of sophomores on the field, and they know what to expect,” he said. “They’re a year stronger.”

Healthy Sheppard vital for Hawkeyes

Youth may reign supreme at Banks Field this season, but an old guard will still occupy the most important position on the diamond.

Senior catcher Dan Sheppard may have returned last season from Tommy John surgery, but the Illinois native knew he still wasn’t 100 percent. It showed on the field as he labored down the stretch — posting a .234 batting average and 10 RBIs in 94 at-bats.

There’s some good news for the Black and Gold: Shep’s back and hungrier than ever.

“I feel good. We’re ready to get outside, we’ve been inside for the whole winter,” Sheppard said. “[The injury] was frustrating, but that’s all in the past. I’m good to go.”

Iowa hopes their backstop can return to freshman form, when he hit .260 with 20 hits in 28 games. The team is also counting on having the upperclassman in the lineup every day, something he has yet to accomplish in his fractured career because of injuries.

Sheppard’s veteran presence would be valuable even on a balanced roster, but with the youth-driven Hawkeyes; the senior’s appearance looms large.

“Getting Sheppard back 100 perecent [is huge]. He’s a very talented defensive catcher,” Dahm said. “We’re very excited.”

Yacinich has shared a field with Sheppard for only half of a season and has yet to witness the senior’s full capabilities. Yet, the sophomore star knows that his catcher is one of the most important pieces to his squad’s 2013 puzzle.

“Shep’s not only an outstanding player, but he’s one of our biggest leaders,” Yacinich said. “And when Shep tells you to do something, you do it.”


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