Baseball stumbles again midweek

BY CODY GOODWIN | APRIL 09, 2015 5:00 AM

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Progress looks like four more wins and four fewer losses in a year’s time, an unparalleled turnaround under a second-year head coach that’s caught the eye of the national media.

The Hawkeyes’ swift rise to national prominence in the college baseball world has been well-documented, as they’ve taken mammoth-sized steps in their two years under Heller. Still, baseball is, more than anything, a game of failure, and on Wednesday evening, Iowa did not deliver in another midweek game — this time, in the form of a 4-3 decision to Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

“There’s no shame in losing to Milwaukee this year. They’re a very good team,” Heller said. “If you would’ve told me they were only going to get 8 hits and we were going to lose, I would’ve been surprised by that before the game started.

“Our pitchers did a nice job today, but we struggled offensively.”

It had been a positive week for the Iowa baseball team, now 21-8, heading into Wednesday’s midweek game against Milwaukee (16-9). The Hawkeyes entered having won 11 of their last 14, had outscored their opponents by 44 runs in those 14 games, and carried a national ranking in five different polls.

But the momentum from the previous weekend’s sweep at Purdue came to a halt against the Panthers, who scored single runs in four separate innings to beat the Hawkeyes at Banks Field before an announced 294.

In all, Heller was happy with his team’s defensive effort. Milwaukee averaged 7 runs per game before Wednesday and had a team batting average of .295. The Panthers, of course, only plated 4 runs and hit just .267 as a team.

Even more, left fielder Sam Koenig — who entered having hit safely in 24-straight games and held the nation’s second-best batting average at a scorching .457 — was largely ineffective, to the tune of an 0-for-2 performance that included 3 walks.

“Our defense is outstanding,” said center fielder Eric Toole, who went 1-for-5 at the plate. “We rarely make errors during the game. But our offense didn’t come to play today.

“Our pitching gave us opportunities to win the game. They kept Milwaukee where they needed to be. We just couldn’t get the big hit.”

Iowa recorded just one hit in 11 at-bats with runners in scoring position on Wednesday and went just 2-for-16 collectively with runners on at all. The lone RBI came from shortstop Nick Roscetti, who hit in pinch-hitter John Barrett in the bottom of the sixth that tied the game at 2.

Milwaukee responded with another run in the seventh for a 3-2 lead, then added an insurance run in the eighth. The Hawkeyes cut the lead to 4-3 with one out in the bottom of the frame. The next two batters struck out.

With one last chance in the ninth, the top of Iowa’s order — Toole, Jake Mangler, and Tyler Peyton — all grounded out, marking the Hawkeyes’ third loss in their last four midweek games.

“They’re a good team. We knew they were going to score runs,” Mangler said. “When we get into situations where we can score runs, we need to take advantage of that.”

As Iowa now looks toward a weekend series with Maryland, the preseason favorites to win the Big Ten, there is still some positives to take away. For example: A year ago, the Hawkeyes were 17-12, and fighting for a spot in the conference tournament. The year before that: 11-15, with hardly any hope at all.

Now Heller and Company are focused on competing for the Big Ten crown, and a true test that will gauge their chances begins on Friday, when Iowa travels to College Park, Maryland, to play the Terps.

“I’m looking at it as a big challenge,” Heller said. “It’s something we’re all looking forward to.”

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