Iowa Hawkeyes

Iowa baseball gets No. 6 seed in Big Ten tournament after sweeping Penn State

IOWA CITY — Fun with numbers.

Five seasons for Rick Heller as University of Iowa baseball coach. Five seasons with at least 30 wins.

Five guys honored during Saturday’s Senior Night at Duane Banks Field. A five-game win streak to end the regular season after disposing of Big Ten Conference cellar dwellar Penn State, 8-4.

Not a ‘five’ seed for Iowa going into this week’s Big Ten tournament, but an OK ‘six.’ The Hawkeyes draw third-seeded Michigan in a tourney opener Wednesday morning at 9 at Omaha’s TD Ameritrade Park.

“I think it was a great year for us. An awesome year,” Heller said. “I thought our guys played hard all season. They came to work every day and tried to get better. When guys went down, other guys stepped up. When guys slumped, guys picked up the slack. That is the sign of a really good team.”

This really good team finished with a 33-18 record.

“Thirty-three wins, I think that’s pretty good,” said Iowa right fielder Robert Neustrom. “But at the same time, we were never complacent. We got 33 wins, but it was a roller coaster still. There were a lot of wins that we should have gotten, and there were some games we played tough, too. It’s a crazy thing that you could play 51 games this fast, I guess.”

By the way, Nebraska didn’t make the eight-team field, so Iowa is the closest school geographically to the tourney site. It’s double elimination, with the Hawks probably needing to win it to advance to an NCAA regional for a second straight year.

No problem there, because that’s what happened last season. It has been done.

One more number, if you don’t mind. Iowa’s RPI going into Saturday night’s game was 63.

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Don’t get Heller started on that. He figures a team that went 8-9 against nationally-ranked opponents, including three series, wins, should have a better RPI than that.

But this was a night for celebrating what was accomplished, not nitpicking about RPI. Freshman Jack Dreyer was just fine as starting pitcher (six innings, two hits and two runs) and Neustrom had a two-run single in a five-run second inning in what was likely his final game at Banks Field.

The junior from Sioux City is expected to be picked somewhere in the top five or six rounds of the upcoming Major League Baseball Draft, which makes it awfully difficult not to turn pro.

“All the seniors, that’s who I was thinking about tonight,” Neustrom said. “They knew this was their last game at Duane Banks, unless we’d host a Super Regional or something. It’s just kind of surreal how fast time flies for everyone. Seems like it was just yesterday I was moving into my dorm. And, like you said, this could possibly have been my last game here.”

The seniors are infielders Matt Hoeg and Austin Guzzo, catcher Tyler Cropley, reliever Nick Nelsen and starter Nick Allgeyer, who actually has another year of eligibility. He’s Iowa’s ace, the guy who will get the ball Wednesday against Michigan.

“I was really pleased with the fact that we just didn’t give much away this weekend,” Heller said. “That’s a good sign going into the conference tournament. We had maybe three (walks) during the weekend, and that’s a great job by our pitching staff and a great job by our defense.

“It’s not easy to sweep anyone.”

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

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