IOWA CITY — It’s Iowa Time.
The Big Ten Conference baseball tournament has been just that lately. The Iowa Hawkeyes won the thing last season, securing a NCAA Division I regional berth.
Two years ago, they made it to the championship game before falling to Ohio State. For whatever reason, this tourney has brought the best ouf of them.
You’d have to think that success will help this year’s team. Iowa (33-18) plays Michigan (32-19) in a first-round game bright and early Wednesday morning at 9 at Omaha’s TD Ameritrade Park.
“It’s hard to say (if it will),” Iowa Coach Rick Heller said. “Every team is so different. The tournament is the tournament. You’ve got short rest for your Friday night guy, a less day (of rest) this time. That’s probably the most important thing. What kind of a start are you going to get in game one? For every team, not just our team. Every coach thinks that.”
Nick Allgeyer will be that game one starter for Iowa. He was named a first-team all-Big Ten pitcher Tuesday, one of three Hawkeyes to get first-team all-league honors.
Outfielder Robert Neustrom and catcher Tyler Cropley were the others.
“I’m excited for the postseason,” Neustrom said. “This is the funnest time of the year. School is out, we’re just playing baseball. We’re playing on TV every day, we’re close to Iowa, playing in Omaha, so we know there’s going to be a ton of fans. I’m looking forward to it.”
Iowa is the tournament’s No. 6 seed to Michigan’s 3. Minnesota won the regular-season Big Ten championship to earn the top seed, with Purdue second, Illinois fourth, Indiana fifth, Ohio State seventh and Michigan State eighth.
The championship game is Sunday at 1 p.m. The Big Ten Network will televise each game.
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“We’ve got a lot of guys on this team that just yearn for these moments,” Neustrom said. “Nothing is too big. We understand this game, understand that sometimes it can feel bigger than life. But at the same time, we’re just out here having fun. We’ve got a lot of good guys. It’s huge, having that experience, and I think it’s going to suit us well this week.”
Iowa won two of three from Michigan in the regular season, stopping the Wolverines’ 20-game win streak. Tyler Cropley won Game 3 with a walk-off home run.
Pitching, naturally, will be important in this tournament. It has to be good, and you have to get it from just about everyone.
Allgeyer (5-4, 2.50 earned run average) topped Michigan ace Tommy Henry (7-3, 3.14) in the regular season, 4-2. Cole McDonald returned from an elbow issue and had a successful start in the penultimate regular-season game against Penn State.
Freshman Jack Dreyer emerged late and threw six good innings in the finale last weekend against Penn State. Brady Schanuel struggled this regular season but had a clean inning in relief in the finale, giving Heller hope he can contribute in some role.
“Seeing that 95, 96 (miles per hour) again. A guy just letting it go. It was only an inning, but it gives me a real positive feeling going into the tournament for Brady,” Heller said. “Helps the team a ton. It looks like Cole’s going to be back for game two in full force. That makes our staff that much stronger, knowing that you’re going to get three quality starts. And it looks like we’re going to have another quality arm coming out of the bullpen for a short stint in Brady. So what Jack has been able to do the back part of the season has picked us up.”
With a RPI sitting at 66, it appears Iowa will have to win this tournament to get back to regionals. No question they think that’s possible.
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“I do believe our guys are confident that we can go in there and win,” Heller said. “That’s a given after the last few years. I think that should help us, not only once we get there, but in close games.”
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