Hawkeyes hope to carry momentum into Northwestern series

BY JACOB SHEYKO | APRIL 11, 2014 5:00 AM

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While the Iowa baseball team is coming off of two wins against Kansas earlier this week, the Hawkeyes have not won a Big Ten contest since March 28.

However, the Hawkeyes hope that their return to form against Kansas will continue when they travel to Evanston, Ill., to take on Northwestern today through April 13.

“It says a lot about the team’s character,” head coach Rick Heller said about the two wins against Kansas. “You get swept, it’s not fun, but they wiped it away and went back to work.”

When Iowa kicked off the season under Heller, the offense exceeded expectations — albeit, pretty low expectations that were based on an offense that was one of the worst in the Big Ten last season. The Hawks took advantage of the warm conditions of Florida and Tennessee and more than quadrupled their home-run total from the prior season in the first couple weeks.

But when the Hawkeyes returned to the Midwest, they appeared to leave their power, and their overall offensive prowess in the Port Charlotte, Fla. — where they defeated Otterbein University, 17-5, in their last game before coming heding back to the Midwest.

Before their 12-7 defeat of Kansas on April 9, Iowa had not scored more than 6 runs in a game since March 23 — something it did 11 times before then.

“We kept telling the team to keep making solid contact, and good things are going to happen,” Heller said. “You kind of see the guys getting their confidence back.”

Iowa is third in the Big Ten in home runs, but even Heller will note that the Hawkeyes do not live and die with the long ball. Instead, Iowa’s offense relies on stringing hits together, something that never came to fruition until they played Kansas.

The Hawkeyes particularly struggled in this regard when Indiana came to town. In that three-game series, Iowa stranded 31 base runners.

But against Kansas, Iowa was able to put up big numbers in a single frame.

“I think being able to get pitches that we really could put good swings on,” second baseman Jake Mangler said. “A lot of times against Indiana, we had runners in scoring position, and we weren’t able to take advantage of it because we were swinging at pitches we weren’t usually swinging at.”

Iowa’s focus now remains on taking what worked against Kansas and applying it to their upcoming three-game series against Northwestern — which sits in last place in the Big Ten.

Northwestern is 1-7 in the Big Ten, 5-22 overall. In most Big Ten categories, the Wildcats lie near the bottom or at the bottom. But following two of the biggest wins of the season, Iowa’s focus remains on its own performance rather than the opponent’s.

“We just have to keep it up,” center fielder Eric Toole said. “Keep up the quality at-bats, getting the next guy up in line, doing the job, getting the runs in, clutching up, great pitching, and we should be fine.”

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