Iowa Hawkeyes

Iowa baseball has work to do to return to NCAA Tournament

Hawkeyes host woeful Penn State for 3-game series to close regular season

Iowa Hawkeyes second baseman Mitchell Boe (4) pulls in a popup in shallow right field for an out during the fourth inning of their NCAA baseball game at Duane Banks Field in Iowa City on Sunday, May. 6, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Iowa Hawkeyes second baseman Mitchell Boe (4) pulls in a popup in shallow right field for an out during the fourth inning of their NCAA baseball game at Duane Banks Field in Iowa City on Sunday, May. 6, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — How much do you believe in college baseball’s RPI? Better yet, how much does the NCAA tournament selection committee believe in it?

Iowa concludes its regular season this weekend with three games at home against Penn State. They’re all night games: 6:05 p.m. Thursday and Friday and 6:30 p.m. Saturday.

First things first. The Hawkeyes still haven’t clinched making it to the Big Ten Conference tournament.

They sit in seventh place at 10-9. Maryland and Michigan State are tied for eighth at 9-11.

Eight teams qualify.

You definitely love Iowa’s chances, being a game and a half up and playing against the league’s worst team. Penn State is 3-18 in the Big Ten and 15-31 overall.

Now back to that RPI thing. Iowa is 30-18 overall and has won series against ranked teams Oklahoma State, Illinois and Michigan, yet its RPI is “only” 64.

That’s good, but probably not good enough for the Hawkeyes to get an at-large regional berth. Yes, 64 teams get in, but you’ve got to consider there are a number of conferences with automatic bids whose qualifier will have higher RPIs than 64.

Some much higher.

Thus, Iowa’s only chance to get back to regionals a second straight year would be to win the Big Ten tournament. Never say never.

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The starting pitching gets a boost this weekend with the return of junior Cole McDonald. Normally Iowa’s No. 3 starter, he has been out with an elbow injury.

Nick Allgeyer gives the Hawkeyes a legitimate ace. Freshman Jack Dreyer has emerged in McDonald’s absence and is expected to get the start Saturday night. Zach Daniels has been a consistent reliever who can work multiple innings.

Iowa’s lineup is solid, with guys like right fielder Robert Neustrom (a potential top-10 round MLB Draft pick) and catcher Tyler Cropley. This team has had a knack all season for getting the big hit, the big pitch or defensive play.

Just look at Tuesday’s 5-4 win over Western Illinois. Mitchell Boe had a straight steal of home with two outs in the top of the ninth inning, then center fielder Ben Norman made a diving catch with two runners on in the bottom of the ninth, doubling off the lead runner to end the game.

“It was great to get the win,” Coach Rick Heller said after the game. “The guys fought and scraped back ...”

Under Heller, that has become a staple. So has winning,

l Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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