IOWA CITY — Look at it this way if you’re the Iowa Hawkeyes baseball team.
You won’t be distracted by constantly looking at your RPI this week and wondering if this win or that win puts you over the top. Or if this loss or that loss knocks you out.
You know exactly the only way you’re getting to an NCAA regional is by winning the Big Ten tournament. There are no ifs, ands or buts.
“Every one of our guys is fired up (for a) fresh start, clean slate,” Coach Rick Heller said. “Go into the postseason and try to run the table. That’s what we have to do to get into the tournament. It’s still right there in front of us. We have a chance. I don’t care how we got into this tournament, we’re going. The sixth straight year for our program. A lot of positives for this season. We’re not going to let five losses at the end of the year ruin that.”
Yeah, those five consecutive losses. They dropped Iowa from a potential third seed two weeks ago to the No. 8-seed and a first-round matchup with regular-season champ Indiana at 5 p.m. Wednesday at Omaha’s TD Ameritrade Park (BTN).
Indiana (36-19) swept the Hawkeyes in a three-game series way back in late March, though the relevance of that in this case is debatable. The eight-team tournament is double-elimination and runs through Sunday.
“We’re very grateful that we get another chance,” said Iowa second baseman Mitchell Boe. “We’re still, in my opinion, one of the best teams in the Big Ten. So we’re going to take it head on. It’s a new season for us.”
The slide to end the regular season for Iowa (30-22) had a lot to do with pitching. The Hawkeyes allowed 42 runs in their final five games against Michigan State (which didn’t make the tournament) and Maryland (which is the No. 6-seed).
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Iowa allowed at least seven runs in each of those games. Cole McDonald gets the starting nod Wednesday, and he pitched well against Indiana in the regular season, going seven innings, allowing two runs and striking out 11 in a no-decision.
“There’s no doubt we can turn it around,” McDonald said. “Our confidence is definitely still strong, we are definitely ready to go. We just need to show up and do what we’ve kind of been doing all season. Just because we haven’t played well the last two weeks doesn’t mean we are a bad team or anything. We have the talent. We can play with the best teams in the nation. So just get back to executing at a higher level, and that starts Wednesday.”
In a long tournament like this one, pitching and pitching depth is vital. Iowa knows it has a reliable guy at the back end of the bullpen in Grant Leonard, who was named a second-team all-Big Ten player Tuesday.
He was the only Hawkeye on the three all-conference teams.
“We’re obviously disappointed with how the last five games have gone,” Heller said. “But if you look at how they’ve gone, (the losses) aren’t because we haven’t fought. Obviously some things have gone wrong, especially on the mound a lot in those five games. But there has been a lot of fight ... It isn’t like there has been a total collapse. Just a little blip in the radar at, unfortunately, the wrong time of the year.”
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