Baseball set for Big Ten opener

BY IAN MURPHY | MARCH 27, 2015 5:00 AM

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When Iowa baseball takes to the diamond at Banks Field this weekend, it will be against its toughest competition to date.

The Hawkeyes start a three game series with Indiana today, and the Hoosiers enter as the No. 19 team in the country, winners of 13 of their last 14 games. They’re coming in hot, too, coming off a midweek win over No. 7 Louisville on Wednesday.

On the flip side, Iowa is coming off a midweek loss to Bradley that players and coaches called a terrible performance, and they know they will need to play their best baseball against the Hoosiers. After starting the season 9-1, the Hawkeyes have cooled to 5-5 in their last 10.

“We played terribly,” said senior Jake Mangler. “Didn’t hit with runners in scoring position, didn’t execute pitches, didn’t play very well at all.”

Hitting with runners in scoring position proved to be a big problem for the Hawkeyes against Bradley.

The Hawkeyes left seven runners stranded in scoring position in that game, a recipe that does not brew success.

If the offensive struggles continue, the Hawkeyes could be in trouble with Indiana. The Hoosiers pitching staff has a 2.84 ERA, which is good enough for third in the conference, and those pitchers have struck out at least 10 batters in five of the last six games.

“There were times we couldn’t score a run with one or two base runners and fewer than two outs,” head coach Rick Heller said. “We had a lot of opportunities.”

The 14-6 Hawkeyes need to play with more confidence, their coach said.

“To go out today and see what you saw, you hope it’s just a bad day,” Heller said.

It may have been a bad day for the Hawkeyes. However, the Hawkeyes cannot afford more of those days against the Hoosiers. Indiana is 76th nationally in batting average with a .284 and has hit 14 home runs on the season.

Iowa has struggled lately against the Hoosiers, with Indiana winning the last eight games and outscoring the Hawkeyes 71-31 during that stretch.

Getting the offense clicking will be key for Iowa, but so will pitching.

Iowa’s pitching staff struggled against Bradley, and if it continues to struggle, the 16-5 Hoosiers will give the Hawkeyes trouble.

“Guys were trying to do more than they were capable of,” said freshman Connor Grant, who started the game. An additional seven pitchers were used in the game.

“You saw [against Bradley] how that can go awry,” Heller said. “We’re going to have to pitch better.”

While there is a little discrepancy in just how good the Hoosiers are — they’re ranked 19th by D1baseball.com while only receiving votes in the USA Today coaches’ poll — Iowa will have to play some of its best ball of the season to beat them.

“Against Indiana, you’re going to have play great baseball,” He said. “You have to play error-free, walk-free. Then, you have to take advantage of the opportunities with outstanding pitching.”

Follow @ianfromiowa on Twitter for news, updates, and analysis about the Iowa baseball team.

Where: Banks Field
When: 3 p.m. today, 2 p.m. Saturday, 1 p.m. March 29
Listen:  800 AM KXIC/1360 or Hawkeye All-Access

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