Iowa's Bryan Niedbalski shining through late in baseball season

BY TOMMY REINKING | MAY 13, 2013 5:00 AM

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The Iowa baseball team has been in need of clutch hits all season. The squad is second-to-last in the Big Ten in runs and has missed more opportunities than big hits.

Lately, however, the club received game-winning hits from an unexpected source: first baseman Bryan Niedbalski, who was hitting .083 only a week ago.

“He struggled a little bit there early on,” Iowa baseball coach Jack Dahm said. “He kept working, staying positive, and staying active in the dugout. He’s been outstanding in the last week and a half.”

Before coming in as a defensive replacement against Michigan on May 4, Niedbalski had only 1 hit in 13 games. Since then, he has caught fire to the tune of a .333 average with 7 hits and 4 RBIs.

The first baseman did more than just connect for hits for the Hawkeyes, though. Niedbalski delivered game-winning at-bats that the squad has lacked this season.

With the bases loaded in the top of the 12th on that May 4 game against the Wolverines, Niedbalski hit a sacrifice fly that gave Iowa the lead and eventually the win. On May 11, he delivered an RBI single in the bottom of the eighth that gave the Hawks a 2-1 lead that was enough to down Michigan State.

“I’m not trying to do too much,” Niedbalski said. “I think when I was pinch-hitting earlier this year, I was trying to do too much. I started relaxing and not thinking about the results.”

One thing that hasn’t been surprising about Niedbalski’s play has been his flawless defense. The St. Louis native hasn’t had an error since April 26, 2011. His streak of 60-straight games without an error is longest on the team.

In fact, being a strong defender was Niedbalski’s role throughout the first three-quarters of Iowa’s season. In five of the 13 games he played in, he entered as the first baseman and never had an at-bat.

“When the ball’s hit at him, he’s going to make the play,” Dahm said. “He’s very good with balls hit at him, and he’s good at picking the ball in the dirt. The only thing we wish is that he had a little more range.”

Changing roles has been nothing new for Niedbalski during his three years at Iowa. As a freshman, he started the most games of any first-year player at Iowa with 33. He hit .255 with 10 RBIs.

During his sophomore year, his playing chances dropped — he appeared in 15 games. His average dropped to .228, but he still drove in 10 runs.

Niedbalski had only started in three games before last weekend’s series against Michigan, but he has taken his various roles on the team in stride.

“I’m a junior so I’ve seen it all,” he said. “I’ve played with older guys who have been in similar situations who have helped me through it.”

From experienced freshman to brick-wall defender to clutch hitter, Niedbalski has fit into whatever role Iowa has needed. Late in the season, he’s been the player Iowa has needed to win games.

“He’s a grinder,” said fellow infielder Jake Yacinich. “You can see it. He’ll just grind out an at-bat and do whatever it takes to get it done. He’s really important to the team.”

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