Iowa baseball set for Big Ten play

Jake Adams and Robert Neustrom are carrying the load as Hawkeyes welcome Purdue

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IOWA CITY — Duane Banks Stadium looks ready to host a weekend baseball series.

The home of the Iowa baseball team has hosted three weekday games this year — the Hawkeyes are a perfect 3-0 — but when Purdue rolls into town for the start of Big Ten play, it’ll be the first weekend series of the year in Banks Stadium.

Sitting with an 11-8 record through the first leg of the season, Iowa has been up and down. Injuries have limited the Hawkeyes — especially their pitching staff — this year, though the team is hitting well enough to offset a good portion of the damage.

Figuring out ways to reconfigure things is what a lot of the non-conference slate is for, however, and head coach Rick Heller seems confident in his squad.

“It’s difficult putting guys in situations they haven’t done before,” Heller said. “But you have to carry the load.”

Junior college transfer Jake Adams has a fully loaded frame pack loaded for two weeks in Yellowstone on his back, while sophomore Robert Neustrom is hauling a canoe on his shoulders through a three-mile portage in northern Minnesota.

Adams is hitting .333 with 8 home runs and 28 RBIs while Neustrom is batting .395 with 3 home runs and 23 RBIs. Adams is leading the conference in home runs, slugging percentage and RBIs while Neustrom has the most hits and second-highest batting average.

It’s been a good start to the year for both.

“We’re all on the same page hitting-wise as team,” Neustrom said. “But, man, Jake is a monster at the plate. That’s the best way to put it, a monster.”

Certainly scary for opposing pitchers, the Hawkeye slugger is well on his way to a truly impressive season.

Iowa will need it. With starting pitcher C.J. Eldred done for the year, making up runs is simply going to be a fact of life for the team. As a staff, Iowa is holding onto a 5.02 team ERA, seventh in the Big Ten.

That’s middle of the road and certainly not atrocious, but Heller wants to see more. Iowa’s defense has been good this year as well and is tied for the second-best fielding percentage (.981) in the league.

Getting the pitching to where he wants it will take some time, but really is one of the few places the Hawkeyes are struggling.

“It is what it is and somebody else has to pick up the innings,” Heller said. “It gives us a chance and we’ve done pretty good with that.”

l Comments: jordan.hansen@thegazette.com

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