Iowa's seniors shine

BY RYAN RODRIGUEZ | MAY 11, 2015 5:00 AM

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They were there since the beginning.

From the dark days under head coach Jack Dahm through the program’s eventual resurgence under current skipper Rick Heller, Iowa’s senior class has been a constant, a steady hand on a team that’s seen its share of peaks and valleys.

On Sunday, that senior corps supported the Hawkeyes once more, turning in an inspired performance en route to a 7-1 victory on Senior Day.

“With the way those guys came out and played today, I don’t think you can think of a better script or a better ending,” head coach Rick Heller said. “It doesn’t always happen that way, though. I’ve been a part of a lot of good teams where this day doesn’t go so well because of all the emotion.”

Heller deserves all the credit in the world for turning Iowa’s ship around. In just two seasons, he’s taken them from a 20-win team to one that now has a very real chance of hitting 40 wins for the first time since 1981.

But even Heller will be the first to admit that without the horses, the Hawkeyes likely never get out of the starting gate.

“What I see, even more than the talent is the way they all hold players accountable and their attitude in the locker room,” Heller said. “Without that, we probably don’t get very far.”

A play-by-play recap from Sunday’s victory over the Gophers read like so many others this season.
Senior Eric Toole led off with a four-pitch walk that became the eventual first run of the game after the Council Bluffs native advanced to third on a steal and hit-and-run.

Fellow senior and team captain Jake Mangler crushed a one-out double that drove in a pair of runs one inning later. Nick Hibbing picked up the four-inning save in his last home appearance as a Hawkeye.

“Two-out hitting is something we talk about a lot, and I was able to get the big hit and extend the lead there,” Mangler said. “Right now, we’re doing our best to play our best baseball, so to get the sweep today and go into Rutgers on a positive was huge for us.”

And though the duo finished just a combined 1-for-5, they accounted for 4 of Iowa’s 7 RBIs.

“Things came quickly this year,” Toole said. “Senior year, and I knew it was going to come fast, but I didn’t think it’d go this fast. The sweep on senior weekend is nice to have.”

Volumes more can and probably should be written about the contributions of Iowa’s seniors, both this season and over the course of their Hawkeye careers.

But for those players and the rest of their teammates, it’s still way too early for retrospect.

With its final series of the season under than a week away, Iowa has the opportunity to send its seniors off on a higher note than even the victory Sunday: a Big Ten championship. 

“In the past, Senior Day was usually just all the seniors played because we weren’t going to make the Big Ten Tournament,” Toole said. “Now, we still have a ton of baseball left to play, which is a really cool feeling.”

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