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Hawks at best with backs against the wall

BY RYAN RODRIGUEZ | APRIL 27, 2015 5:00 AM

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Jimmy Frankos stood calmly in the batter’s box, the bat on his shoulders as Nebraska pitcher Garrett King wound up and delivered the 3-2 pitch.

Ping.

A high bloop single into shallow left field, a bobbled catch, and a tag-up run meant another walk-off winner for the Hawkeyes.

More than anything else, Frankos’ last at-bat, which came in game one of Sunday’s double-header — Iowa won the second game to finish the series sweep — serves as a microcosm of Iowa’s season to date. With their backs against the wall, these Hawkeyes are at their best.

“I think you can’t really ever count us out,” senior Kris Goodman said. “That’s how we think in the dugout. Just that next-guy-up mentality makes us relentless.”

The comeback victory in the first game of Iowa’s Sunday afternoon double-header against the Huskers played out like so many before it.

Patient and biding their time, the Hawkeyes held on just long enough before their quick rally turned the game, and the weekend series, in their favor.

Three of Iowa’s last five wins have come either in extra innings or as the result of a ninth-inning walk-off.

What’s more, the Hawkeyes have scored at least 1 run in the final three innings in six of their last seven games.

“It’s one of those things where anytime you have the opportunity to do something really special, you rise to the occasion,” Goodman said.

Of course, head coach Rick Heller and Company probably prefer games like Sunday’s rubber match — ones in which the Hawkeye offense explodes for 13 hits and their otherworldly defense and pitching staff combine to completely shut down the Husker bats.

In other words, they’d rather see the games that don’t require a nail-biter finish and last-moment heroics to win.

But nevertheless, the Hawkeyes couldn’t feel more at home with the pressure on. 

“If you had told me before the season started that we would have swept Nebraska without Peyton starting Friday and Nick Day not playing at all, I would have had a hard time believing you,” Heller said. “To overcome all of that this weekend was huge.”

That big-game mentality extends beyond the batter’s box.

Iowa’s outfield combination of juniors Joel Booker and John Barrett and senior Eric Toole cover ground like no other, and their efforts on a couple of spectacular catches saved at least a pair of runs for the Hawks on April 25 and Sunday.

Add that to their already veteran middle-infield, and good luck getting anything cheap past the Hawkeye defense. 

“It’s really one of the biggest thing coach Heller tries to instill in us, just that mentality to never give up,” Booker said.  “Up until the last out is made, that’s just what we do. We grind until we get it done.”

Confidence on the field is key, and the Hawkeyes certainly exude it, perhaps more and more with each passing victory.

But it’s a confidence that extends beyond the diamond.

“There’s not one guy on the team that we go ‘oh that’s it, we’re done’ when he gets up to bat,” Booker said. “Anybody on this team can make things happen, and we all believe that.  There’s a lot of confidence around each guy on the team.”

Team mentality has been a pillar in Heller’s coaching ideology since his career began. To see it come to fruition yet again is further proof to trust in the system.

“That’s what happens when guys play for the team and not for themselves,” Heller said. “We play as a team with that team mentality.”

Follow @ryanarod on twitter for new, updates, and analysis on the Iowa baseball team.


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