Hawkeye Keep Rolling On

May 10, 2007

With the Hawkeyes 9-0 shutout of Indiana last weekend, the team upped its win streak to 12 games, which is the second longest in school history. After not starting off the Big Ten season as well as they hoped, the last few weeks have been a testament to the work the team has put in since the fall.

Out of the gates, the Hawkeyes were playing well with early season wins over Notre Dame and Nebraska. Once the Big Ten season started, Head Coach Jack Dahm believes the team began pressing – which led to going 1-3 against both Ohio State and Minnesota. Right from the start, the goal for the team was to win the Big Ten, but they weren’t playing relaxed against some stellar competition on the road.

With a dramatic 10-9 win over Illinois on April 21, the team turned their season around. The two teams battled back-and-forth for nine innings until Jason White stepped up and hit a walk-off home run – his third round-tripper of the game. After the game Dahm remembers what leftfielder Caleb Curry said to his teammates.

“After Jason’s walk-off homer, Caleb said `Lets make this be the game that gets us over the hump and turns the season around for us,'” said Dahm.

Since that statement, the team hasn’t lost.

After White’s power surge against the Illini, he finished up the series by hitting for the cycle on Sunday, earning himself Big Ten Player of the Week honors. The following weekend, the Hawks swept Northwestern aided by the torrid hitting of Travis Sweet. Sweet hit three home runs, doubling his season total, and earned Iowa it’s second-straight Big Ten Player of the Week honors. The series sweep of the Wildcats was also the first Big Ten series sweep for the Hawkeyes in 16 years.

White and Sweet haven’t been the only ones hitting, either. As a team, the Hawkeyes are ranked fifth in the nation with a .341 batting average, and have an astonishing eight players hitting above .360. Dahm credits hitting coach, Ryan Brownlee for the teams success at the plate.

“Coach Brownlee deserves a lot of the credit in preparing these hitters and getting them in routines,” said Dahm. “The work that they’ve been putting in is paying off.”

Someone who’s really stepped up his game and has proved to be a potent weapon in the lineup has been Justin Toole. The sophomore put in a lot of work with Coach Brownlee and the team’s strength coach over the summer, and he’s changed some things about his approach at the plate. This season, he’s been picking better pitches and it’s helped him post a .404 average.

The surprising thing to some may be that he’s doing it out the nine hole. To top it off, he’s been hitting when it counts. He’s fifth on the team in both RBIs (30) and runs (30). The last time Dahm has had a player bat over .400 and put up the numbers that Toole has in the No. 9 spot was 1991 when he was with a Creighton team that went to College World Series.

Dahm refers to Toole as his “Energizer Bunny.” He’s got so much energy, yet when it comes down to it, he’s able to get focused in on what needs to be done.

“One of the things to having such a good lineup up and down, nobody wants to face Jason White or Travis Sweet so when Justin comes up in the nine hole, he knows he’s going to get some good pitches to hit and he’s ready,” said Dahm. “He’s swinging the bat as good as anyone in the program right now.”

Even with his big year, Toole continuously credits the entire team to its accomplishments this season. During the fall, the team really came together and they’ve all relied on one another this season

“I think this is a really good example of the team,” said Toole. “All the guys care about each other. All the guys are real close. If somebody doesn’t get their job done on the field, there’s a guy right behind them to pick them up.”

After the big weekend against Northwestern, the Hawkeyes won their first three games against Indiana before being rained out on Sunday and denied a chance at a second-straight sweep.

In game two of Saturday’s doubleheader, Nick Erdman threw seven shutout innings in the team’s 9-0 win. With the way the team has been hitting, it has helped all the pitchers relax on the hill.

“It is nice to know you don’t have to be perfect every time out, because they’ve been putting up a ton of runs lately,” said Erdman. “It makes it so much easier to pitch with that kind of run support behind you if you make a mistake.”

The series against Indiana showed how far the team has come this season. They have finally started to put everything together for the season’s stretch run.

“Last weekend was really the first weekend where we put all three phases of the game together,” said Dahm. “Our hitting, pitching, and defense were all clicking at the same time and hopefully we can continue that.”

The streak has not been something that has just fell into the team’s lap though. Their success lately has been from years of hard work from those dedicated to building the program.

“This is not something that’s just come along in the last two weeks, this has been building for years,” said Dahm. “All of the guys that were here in previous years have helped us build the foundation. We started it the right way and we need to continue to move forward with that.”

For the season in a nutshell, the team has been trying to stay in the moment by not looking ahead.

“We’re just playing well right now. The guys are having fun and I just think that’s the most important thing,” said Erdman. “If we just continue to have fun, the winning will take care of itself.”

The Hawkeyes will look to continue their winning steak this weekend as they travel to West Lafayette for a four game series against Purdue.

Josh Mitchell, UI Sports Information