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Late wins becoming a trend for Iowa baseball

BY RYAN RODRIGUEZ | APRIL 21, 2014 5:00 AM

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After the Iowa baseball team blew an incomprehensible 10-run lead to Northwestern in its previous weekend series, it responded by closing out the series with a pair of convincing 8-1 and 5-0 victories on a April 12 double-header to steal the series from the Wildcats.

Fast forward a few days to April 18, where the Black and Gold again dropped the opening game of their home stand to Minnesota, 4-3, before once again rallying to win two straight and take the series 2-1.

Noticing a trend here?

For the second straight week, the Hawks followed up disappointing losses by playing their best baseball of the season, picking up huge conference victories in the process.

“I think it really says a lot about our maturity as a team to be able to get these wins,” Iowa head coach Rick Heller said.  “We had a lot of tough luck hitting balls right at guys, and I think when that happens, a lot of teams start to get frustrated, but I felt like we handled it really well.”

The Hawkeyes looked flat in the opener, falling behind early against a tough pitcher and committing an egregious error in the top of the ninth that ended up costing them the game.

Taylor Zeutenhorst’s bobbled pop fly allowed the tying run to score for Minnesota, which eventually won the contest in extra innings.

“It was tough, but from a confidence standpoint, it really didn’t change a whole lot,” Zeutenhorst said.  “We all kept pretty even-keeled after it, and I think that says a lot about the kind of team we have here.”

It was a mistake that, as Heller put it, elite teams simply do not make.  

And while Hawkeye teams of years past may have gotten down on themselves after a tough loss, this edition of Iowa is mature enough to come back even stronger in response.

If you need more of an example, look no further than Sunday afternoon’s 7-6  victory over Minnesota.

Struggling early against Minnesota pitcher Neal Kunik, the Hawkeyes had about a half-dozen hard-hit balls fly right into the gloves of shortstop Chris Schaaf and second-baseman Connor Schaefbauer.

Ignoring their frustration, the Black and Gold stayed calm at the plate, eventually putting two on for designated hitter Dan Potempa.

And Potempa responded the only way he knows: by hitting an absolute bomb over the left-field wall that cleared the bases and gave the Hawks the win.

“I’d been getting jammed inside a lot, so I talked to Marty [Sutherland] and I just tried to drive the ball as best I could,” Potempa said. “We never give up. It happened in Florida and a couple more times here at home, we just never quit.”

It’s a testament to the maturity Heller and his staff have instilled in their clubhouse this season. Instead of making excuses, they find ways to win.

The effects have been visible from the start. With more than a month left, they have already equaled their total of 22 wins from 2013.

“We showed a lot of toughness the last two weekends,” Heller said. “That’s all you can ask of a team. I’m really proud of the way these guys have handled themselves.”


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