Iowa baseball 'at a crossroads' after dropping series to Rutgers

Hawkeyes pounded in series finale Sunday, 13-5

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IOWA CITY — Giving up eight runs over the first three innings of a 13-5 loss to Rutgers on Sunday afternoon did not make Iowa baseball coach Rick Heller very happy.

After falling in both the game and series to the Scarlet Knights (15-22, 4-5 Big Ten), Heller had a couple things on his mind.

“First off, we’re better than this,” Heller said. “Second, we’re at a crossroads.”

He’s right. Iowa (23-15, 6-6) is 4-6 since beating Northwestern 14-2 on April 7, the last win of an eight-game win streak. Dropping a series 1-2 against the Scarlet Knights, who came into the weekend with an RPI of 111, is pretty far from ideal for Iowa as it starts to think about the postseason.

The Hawkeyes’ own RPI is at a precarious 83 and will almost certainly go down after their performance this weekend. The loss against Rutgers hurt that a little, but the big issue for the Hawkeyes this season has been games on the road, where they are 5-9.

Iowa got a massive series win at Nebraska last week, but then turned around and lost a midweek game at Bradley on Wednesday before the aforementioned series this weekend.

“It’s very frustrating for me as a person,” junior infielder Matt Hoeg said. “It’s frustrating to come out like this against teams we all think we’re better than and lay an egg.”

As the season has worn on, Heller’s pitching depth is struggling, too. He’s tried mixing up starters and relievers and while there’s been some headway, there have been struggles as well.

Friday starter Nick Gallagher has been fine, but the bullpen hasn’t been great. Injuries, illness and bad luck have caused issues this year and Heller doesn’t hesitate to acknowledge it.

Though, to be fair, it’s not about making excuses, he’s just to the point where he wants his players to step up.

“Is this it? Is this what it’s going to be from now on?” Heller said. “Or are we going to have some guys buck up and find a way to get it done?”

The players hesitate to call this lull a slump, but calling it a slump might actually be better than considering the alternative. For the Hawkeyes, the offense has been able to do a lot this year.

Hitting .284 as a group with 36 home runs and 214 RBI, there’s still plenty to work with. When the Hawkeyes get hot, they can punish just about any pitcher they’ve come across — Iowa’s only been shut out three times this year.

Luckily, however, for the Hawkeyes, their final four Big Ten series are all against teams below them in the standings. It’s a chance to get hot over the final weeks of the season, but on the flip side, it could be what keeps Iowa out of the NCAA tournament.

The Hawkeyes have a Tuesday game against UW-Milwaukee before hosting Penn State for three games next weekend. They also travel to Michigan State, host Ohio State, and visit Illinois in May.

l Comments: jordan.hansen@thegazette.com

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