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TAIPEI, Taiwan — The Iowa baseball team dropped its final game of the World University Games group stage on Wednesday morning, 11-5, to Japan.
The Hawkeyes grabbed an early lead thanks to a Matt Hoeg three-run home run in the bottom of the second, but Japan came roaring back, scoring nine straight runs and cruising to first place in Group B.
The Hawkeyes had a quick turnaround after Tuesday night’s 13-3 win, with the first pitch against Japan coming just 13 hours after the final out against Russia.
That, perhaps, had an effect on the players.
“It’s tough to say,” Iowa Coach Rick Heller said. “I think it had more to do with our lack of mental toughness and some guys’ ability to go ahead and just execute and throw strikes.
The Iowa pitching staff walked seven batters.
“I felt like if we just played clean baseball, no free bases, then it’s a game that we probably win 4-2,” Heller said. “Unfortunately, that was not the case. We gave them a ton of free bases and lots of opportunities and they took advantage of it. You can’t do that against a good team like Japan.”
A bright spot for Team USA on Wednesday was starting pitcher Jack Dreyer. The freshman went four innings in his first start with the Hawkeyes, giving up just two hits and one unearned run. The 18-year-old was quick to give credit to his teammates for his impressive performance.
“Well, all of the upperclassmen were just telling me ‘make sure you have confidence, make sure you know you have the best defense behind you,’” said Dreyer, from Johnston. “That makes it really easy for me. I can just go up there and do whatever I need to and they’ll be behind me making the outs for me.”
By finishing second in Group B, the Hawkeyes are guaranteed a spot in one of Monday’s semifinals, but will first play a two-game Super Round to determine their seeding.
On Thursday, most of the team will attend a University of Iowa alumni event in Taipei. Special assistant Jim Magrane, however, will head 100 miles south to Taichung to throw out the first pitch for his old team, the Brother Elephants (now the Chinatrust Brothers).
“I’m super excited,” said Magrane, who pitched for the team in 2010 and 2012. “I’ve been in touch with a lot of my former teammates and they kind of asked me to do that.
“I don’t know if my arm still works, but we’ll see.”
Iowa’s two games in the Super Round will be Friday evening (5:30 a.m., Iowa time) and Saturday morning (10 p.m. Friday, Iowa time), with opponents to be determined.