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IOWA CITY — Don’t get on Twitter or Instragram. Try not to read many newspapers or websites.
If you do, mostly disregard what you see.
That’s what Rick Heller’s message was last week to his Iowa Hawkeyes baseball team. He doesn’t want his guys to worry about what they need to do in what is now their final nine regular-season games in order to make an NCAA regional.
It’s about having singular focus. Control the controllables, as they say.
Those controllables are what they do between the white lines. Iowa (21-14) hosts Illinois (16-18) this weekend in the final three games of the season at Banks Field.
Game times are 6:05 Friday night, 2:05 Saturday afternoon and 1:05 Sunday afternoon.
“It’s better just to not even read (things) because here’s the deal,” Heller said. “If we finish in the top four, I think there’s a really good chance we’ll go to a regional. If we finish in the top three, there’s a better chance. If we finish in the top two, we’re going. And, hey, we want a ring, we want to win a Big Ten championship. I just wanted them to know the reality of the situation. If we do a good job, if we play well, there’s a good chance we’ll be rewarded. If we don’t, we won’t.”
Iowa sits in fourth place in the Big Ten Conference, tied with Maryland. Indiana leads the way at 23-10, followed by Nebraska at 23-11 and Michigan at 23-12.
But the thing is Indiana, Michigan and Nebraska play each other down the stretch. Iowa’s final three series are against Illinois, Northwestern and Michigan State, all teams with below-.500 records.
Take care of business, and it’ll be very interesting where the Hawkeyes end up.
“We don’t talk a lot about results,” Heller said. “We’re a process-driven program. We always have been. We focus on getting better each day, we focus on making sure that even though it’s Thursday before the Illinois series, we don’t go out in practice today and waste time. That we go out with the intent of getting better and try and improve in the areas we didn’t do quite as well last weekend against Penn State.”
Iowa came into this week as the Big Ten’s leader in RPI. That’s despite having an inferior record to Indiana, Nebraska and Michigan and losing a series to each.
The conference-only schedule makes it very difficult to assess just how good the Big Ten is, though Heller has repeatedly claimed it’s as good this season as it ever has been. He said he believes seven teams should seriously be considered for a regional selection.
He was asked how many of these final nine games he feels Iowa needs to win to feel good about a postseason berth.
“It’s a really good question, because I don’t think any of us know,” he said. “Obviously it revolves around us taking care of ourselves, which is what we’re going to focus on. That’s all you can do, play them one at a time, take care of yourself and play the best baseball you can.”
There will be 14 senior players and 10 senior managers feted this weekend. The players are Zeb Adreon, Cam Baumann, Jack Dreyer, Izaya Fullard, Jack Guzek, Trace Hoffman, Grant Judkins, Adam Ketelsen, Hunter Lee, Grant Leonard, Ben Norman, Ben Probst, Austin Martin, and Matthew Sosa.
“A very special group,” Heller said. “Been a part of a lot of special things with our program and a big reason why we’ve had a lot of positive things in our program. All they’ve had to endure. We felt like last season we were set to maybe have as good a team as we’ve ever had here at Iowa. To be shut down with COVID ... I’ll always remember that.
“Then the sacrifices guys from this group made to come back and play another year, knowing the uncertainty with the pandemic and what was going to happen with our schedule. All those things ... It’s really two groups. You have your seniors who decided to come back, and then you have your true seniors this year as well and how they’ve stepped up and filled roles they didn’t have last year.”
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