One game at a time

BY JACOB SHEYKO | MAY 09, 2014 5:00 AM

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Trying to get the Iowa baseball players to admit the larger importance of some games over others is an impossible task.

One game at a time, that’s the mentality that head coach Rick Heller has instilled in the players. So even in face of possibly the most important series of the season — one that pits them against Illinois — the players under Heller’s tutelage have stuck to this motto. It’s one that’s put Iowa in position to qualify for its first Big Ten Tournament since 2010.

“We’re just playing them the same way we do everyone; we don’t really put more emphasis on one or the other,” Heller said. “We don’t even talk about it. I feel that we’re a team that can beat anybody, and we’re a team that can lose to anybody.”

The series with Illinois is crucial for several reasons. Iowa is in a three-way tie for sixth place in the Big Ten — Iowa, Michigan State, and Ohio State share 8-10 records.  Those three final spots in the Big Ten Tournament are fairly secure — the next team in the standings is 5-12 Penn State.

However, the larger importance of this series, and the following series with Purdue, is how it can affect Iowa’s seeding in the tournament. Three wins separate the fourth and eighth seeds, meaning that in these final weeks, a lot could change.

With teams desperately trying to avoid playing top-seeded Indiana in the first round — a team that swept Iowa — getting out of the eighth-seed could be the difference between losing in the first round and having to win your way back into the winning side of the bracket, or making a straight run at the championship game.

With all this on the table, Iowa’s mentality has yet to change.

“Were just looking to have a good outing against Illinois,” junior Dan Potempa said. “Hopefully, we can get into the tournament and cause some havoc.”

This has been the case all season long. Before the regular season games started, players stressed the importance of having “winning days,” which was essentially another way of saying that each practice is a chance to improve.

This mindset has translated to the season. Even when the Hawkeyes were faced with lesser opponents, they remained focused solely on that game. One could make the argument that the only game Iowa has really played down to their competition is when it lost to Western Illinois on April 15.
So it wasn’t a surprise when faced with an 11-29 Upper Iowa team Wednesday, Iowa approached the game with a business-like mentality.

“Actually, not at all,” shortstop Jake Yacinich said after he was asked whether the matchup with Upper Iowa could act as a tune-up game before the Hawks played Illinois. “This was their last game of the season. We knew it would be huge for them to wrap up their season with a win against us.”

Another aspect looms over the final home series for Iowa. It will be the last time Hawkeye seniors Taylor Zeutenhorst, Trevor Kenyon, and Bryan Niedbalski play at Banks Field.

But as they have done all season, don’t expect the Hawkeyes to get too sentimental. For them, it’s one game at a time.

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