Baseball Hawks hungry for future

BY CHARLIE GREEN | JUNE 29, 2015 5:00 AM

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The highs and lows of Iowa baseball’s historic postseason remain fresh in the minds of the players.
Numerous high points are obvious: the first postseason victory in more than 40 years, back-to-back 30-victory seasons, and having five players to be selected in the MLB draft.

But the Hawkeyes will not remaining stagnant — their eyes are focused on what they can do better in 2016.

“One of the things I was thinking about was that we were kind of slumping offensively coming into the tournament,” head coach Rick Heller said. “[I was] trying to figure out if there was anything from a coaching standpoint that we could change to try to prevent that.”

The team finished eighth in the Big Ten in 2015 in batting average (.268) and last in home runs with 14.

As the team got into its regional action in late May, the lack of offensive production began to catch up.

Facing elimination on June 1, the Hawks clawed their way to victory over Oregon before falling to Missouri State later in the day. In those two games, Jake Mangler, Tyler Peyton, and Kris Goodman — the heart of Iowa’s lineup — failed to record a hit.

“Unfortunately in baseball, slumps happen, and you really can’t control when and where they happen,” Heller said. “The staff talked about why that happened — was it because we were tired or fatigued, or was it just the fact that we were facing good pitchers?”

It probably was a little of both — certainly the latter had much to do with it.

Missouri State featured two pitchers ultimately selected in the MLB draft, including first-rounder Jon Harris (29th overall to Toronto).

Although the team lost numerous key hitters from 2015, it returns seniors Peyton and Nick Roscetti — both of whom batted above .300 last year.

But for a team that struggled with power last season, more than half of its home runs in 2015 came from players no longer on the roster.

For this reason, the Hawkeyes are putting more of an emphasis on power hitting in the off-season.

“That was one of the things [Peyton and I] talked about after the season,” Heller said. “Tyler has some things he’d like to work on and get better at — he’d like to see his power numbers increase offensively.”

And if the success of 2015 did anything, other than rejuvenate fans, it whet the appetite of the team’s returners for the possibilities.

“It opened my eyes to see a lot to see that we can make a super regional,” Peyton said. “We are good enough, we have the talent to make a super regional and make a College World Series. That’s what we have our sights on — winning the Big Ten and then taking it one step at a time.”

The return of such players as Peyton, Roscetti, and Joel Booker, along with a solid pitching staff and the top-ranked incoming class in the conference, makes those once unrealistic goals suddenly within the realm of possibility.

“Making the first regional in a long time is definitely a huge motivation for us,” Roscetti said. “That experience was probably one of the best in my life.

“The ultimate goal is to get to the College World Series, and I think last year really sparked something in us.”

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