HOUSTON — With host and 15th-ranked Houston, Baylor and Texas A&M in the field, the Houston Regional is stacked. However, there’s not a lot of attention directed this weekend at the Iowa Hawkeyes, who got into the NCAA Tournament only by winning the Big Ten Tournament.
Fourth-seeded Iowa, which meets top-seeded Houston on Friday at 7:04 p.m. at Schroeder Park, is looking at the regional as an opportunity to showcase Hawkeye baseball.
“We know what kind of ball team we are,” said junior first baseman Jake Adams, who shares the NCAA lead with 27 home runs, and on Thursday was named a second-team All-America selection by Collegiate Baseball. “If we go out and play our best ball and our pitchers throw their best game they can, we have a chance to do something special. I think we can make a big impact in this tournament.”
Adams is the main focus on the Hawkeyes (38-20), who are ranked No. 28 by Collegiate Baseball and are making their second NCAA Regional appearance in the last three years under fourth-year coach Rick Heller. The unanimous Big Ten Player of the Year, Adams is third in Division I in total bases (174), fourth in slugging percentage (.747), and seventh in RBIs (70).
“Obviously, I had a pretty good year but I couldn’t have done it without my teammates and coaching staff,” Adams said. “A lot of these teams are starting to pitch around me a little more.
“But with Robert Neustrom (batting) right behind me and Mason McCoy in front of me, it’s kind of hard to do that. They’re really helping me out. Some of these pitchers are making mistakes.”
Adams, McCoy and Neustrom are 1-2-3 in the Big Ten in hits this season.
Iowa is meeting Houston, which won the American Athletic Conference Tournament and shared first place in the regular season, for the first time. The Hawkeyes got a spot in the 64-team tournament by pummeling Northwestern, 13-4, in the conference championship game at Bloomington, Ind.
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“Being here has settled in, and we’ve all had time to relish the moment, but today was a practice day, a day to get better,” said Chris Whelan, who was the Big Ten Tournament Most Outstanding Player. “So we’re excited about Friday.
“I think the fairy tale feeling has gone away a little bit. We know what we accomplished there, we’re not taking that for granted. We got a full head of steam, and I truly believe that we believe that no one can stop us.”
Winning the conference tournament has its benefits and it’s nice, but the Hawkeyes know there’s more to accomplish.
“Last weekend is over with. We had fun, we got the job done,” McCoy said. “We enjoyed it, but as soon as that day was over, it was back to business and try to win the next tournament.”
The Cougars are a formidable opponent for the Hawkeyes, who are third nationally by turning 64 double plays. Houston’s Jake Scheiner, who hit 17 of the team’s 55 home runs, was named AAC Player of the Year. Left-hander Trey Cumbie (10-1, 1.88 ERA) is the AAC Pitcher of the Year.
“It’s a tough draw, a tough regional” Heller said. “But they’re all tough at this point.”