June 3, 2008
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The Iowa baseball team finished its season 22-33 overall and 10-22 in conference play. And while on paper, their numbers seem less than stellar–there are several positives to be drawn from this season. Whether it was fine individual play, team triumphs or milestones, the Hawkeyes accomplished many things in the 2008 season.
“All around, offensively, we did a tremendous job,” Dahm said. “After losing our top three hitters in Jason White, Travis Sweet and Dusty Napoleon we ended up being really solid and confident hitters.”
With the 2007 team’s top three offensive threats out of the picture, the Hawkeyes needed to step up to the plate. Outstanding performances from Kevin Hoef, Caleb Curry, Justin Toole, Wes Freie and Kurtis Muller were huge for the squad. However, spurts of solid pitching proved to be more valuable throughout the season.
“At times our pitching staff was a highlight,” Dahm said. “I think Steve Turnbull did an outstanding job when we moved him to relief. Freshmen Jeff Pacha, Patrick Schatz, Tony Manville and Zach Kenyon all had tremendous outings and showed bright signs for the future. Jason Belk was a huge positive himself; he did a good job in all areas. He took on the leader role and threw solid in the bullpen. Brock Alberts had great outings and Nick Erdman threw the ball well at the end of the season.”
The Black and Gold started the season with 14 road games and two at home before starting Big Ten play. The young Iowa team went 7-9 despite shuffling position players and searching for the right lineup. The Big Ten opener was in snowy Ann Arbor, Michigan in late March.
“We played solid until Big Ten Play,” Dahm said. We dug ourselves a hole when we went 1-7 to start conference play. It hurt our team’s focus and from there on out we were too worried about results and standings–instead of going out and playing ballgames.”
Iowa’s Big Ten triumphs included a series win over Indiana, taking three from the Hoosiers in Bloomington. The Hawkeyes also split with Minnesota and Ohio State at home. Iowa finished as the fourth best hitting team in the conference with a .316 average, fifth in fielding with a .960 and ninth in pitching with a 6.63 ERA. The Hawkeyes also led in several offensive categories including hit-by-pitches, triples and steals.
Kevin Hoef wore 20 pitches this season to set the single-season record.
Nationally, the team ranked well in five offensive categories. The Black and Gold were third in stolen bases, 19th in hit by pitches, 29th in triples, 39th in sacrifice flies and 44th in batting average.
“Our pitching wasn’t very consistent,” Dahm said. “We didn’t know what we were going to get every game. As a result, our bullpen was over used. On top of that, we never really had a true closer. Guys stepped up and did a good job, like Matt Mossey and Andrew Porter but we never were able to give our guys set roles.”
One of the Hawkeyes’ biggest triumphs this year was a victory against No. 5 Vanderbilt on the Commodores’ home field, 12-9. On March 1st, Iowa capitalized on four Vanderbilt errors and out hit the Commodores 14-9. Sophomore Michael Jacobs gave the Hawkeyes a solid start and earned the win, pitching six innings and only allowing three earned runs and seven hits.
“We have gotten quality wins every year,” Dahm said. “The team was very capable of knocking off teams like Vandy, but we just didn’t play fundamental baseball consistently enough throughout the year.”
Another season highlight was Iowa’s mid-week games. The Hawkeyes went 7-4 during these non-conference games. Key wins were at Stetson and Creighton and twice against UNI.
“Games early in the season and mid-week games were our strong point,” Dahm said. “We played extremely well during those contests. We played fundamental baseball, which is the kind of baseball we anticipated to play the entire year.”
Head Coach Jack Dahm is only five wins away from having the third most wins by any Iowa coach.
Coach Dahm set some records himself this season. Dahm picked up his 400th win as a Division I coach against Northern Iowa on April 23rd. He also picked up his 124th victory as an Iowa head coach against Ohio State on May 16, which surpassed Scott Broghamer (1998-03) for fourth in Iowa’s coaching victories. He is now five wins away from Dick Schultz for third.
As a team, the Black and Gold broke a couple school records. Iowa stole 138 bases, which are the most in a single-season by a Hawkeye team, the previous record of 127 was set by the 1981 team. Five Hawkeyes had 14 or more stolen bags, 13 recorded at least one and the Black and Gold were led by senior Caleb Curry who accumulated 45 thefts. The team total ranked third in the nation.
“Coach [Ryan] Brownlee did a great job improving the guys throughout the season,” Dahm said. “Base running was his forte as a player and he’s doing a good job teaching how to be a good base runner. Every guy he has coached has gained confidence and knowledge on the base paths.”
The Hawkeyes also set a record with a team total of 86 hit-by-pitches, breaking the previous record of 83, which was set last season. Hoef, Muller and Curry led the Hawkeyes and 15 members of the Black and Gold wore at least one pitch.
“We have set the record nearly every year since I came to Iowa,” Dahm said. “Getting hit by a pitch is mental toughness. We preach to players to stay in there when pitchers try to come inside. It is one of our hitting philosophies as a way to get on base. And since we steal a lot of bases, as a team, we can turn a worn pitch into a double or triple in a hurry.”
No Hawkeye has shown more mental toughness then Hoef, who earned second team laurels in the conference. Overall, he hit .357 with nine doubles, four triples, three home runs, 31 RBIs, 17 stolen bases and an Iowa single-season record, 20 hit-by-pitches, a total that ranked 12th in the country. As a junior, Hoef set the Iowa career hit-by-pitch record with 49, so far.
Curry had an outstanding campaign, earning his second bid as an outfielder to the second all-league team. The senior boasted team highs in hitting (.396), home runs (7), RBI (65), stolen bases (45), slugging percentage (.584) and sacrifice flies (8). Curry became Iowa’s single-season stolen base leader with 45, which broke Tony Burley’s previous record of 42 set 27 years ago in 1981. He also tied the Iowa career sacrifice fly record of 15, which he established in only two seasons. His season total of 65 RBI placed him at eighth on Iowa’s single-season RBI list. He surpassed Rick Jennings (63 in 1986) and Tim Costo (64 in 1990) with his three RBI in the season finale vs. Ohio State. Curry ranked in the top 50 in three categories nationally; second in stolen bases, 10th in sacrifice flies and 47th in RBI.
“Justin and Caleb had two outstanding seasons,” Dahm said. “They would have faired better with individual awards had our team done better. They didn’t get the honors they deserve, but they had tremendous seasons.”
Justin Toole recorded 25 consecutive games with a hit to create a school record.
Toole earned his second bid to the third all-Big Ten team. The junior made his way into the school record book this season recording 25 consecutive games with a hit. The streak was the longest in the Big Ten and seventh-longest in the country this season. He also hit his way to second on Iowa’s single-season hits list with 87, only four shy of the record. Toole, nationally, was the 30th toughest batter to strikeout, with only 13 strikeouts on the year. He also tied a school record for hits and singles in a single-game, going a perfect 5-for-5 in the win against Northern Iowa, April 30th in the Corridor Classic. The last time a Hawkeye collected five hits was in 2007 against Northern Iowa. It was Travis Sweet who went 5-for-6 in the Iowa victory.
“Justin had a very unselfish approach at the plate,” Dahm said. “His streak was very team oriented, because he would step up to the plate with a goal of helping the team by advancing runners.”
Muller was the only freshman to start consistently for Iowa this season. He hit in the five spot 44 games and played valuable defense in the outfield, only committing one error in the 54 games. Muller took over as Iowa’s true-freshman RBI leader with 47. His 47 RBI ranked second amongst Big Ten freshmen.
“Kurtis was one of the best freshmen in the Big Ten, and in the country,” Dahm said. “Having 47 RBI as a true freshman is unheard of and it will be interesting to see him a few years from now. He has so much room to grow as a player; he has an outstanding work ethic and is very competitive.”
Kurtis Muller had the second most RBI of any freshman in the Big Ten
Anchoring Iowa’s outfielding corp, defensively, was senior Kyle Riffel. Riffel, who started all 53 games played in right field, made numerous sensational catches throughout the season that thwarted opponent scoring threats.
“Kyle is without a doubt the best right fielder I have ever coached,” Dahm said. “You knew exactly what you were going to get from him. He stole 20 bases, played tremendous defense and came up big offensively when he needed to.”
Another factor that played into Iowa’s struggles were injuries to a number of different positions. The injury bug hit the Hawkeye catchers more than any other position last season.
“Injuries really hindered us this season,” Dahm said. “At the beginning of the season, we thought the catching position would be the strength of our team. That being said, Tyson Blaser and Ben Geelan didn’t play at 100% all season.”
With plagued catchers, the coaching staff turned to Kody McManis, who was third on the depth chart to start the season, and had primarily played third base for the Hawkeyes.
“Kody stepped in, and to do what he did is great,” Dahm said. “He played well, and gained valuable experience.”
While the Hawkeyes lost 10 seniors this season, next season looks bright. The Black and Gold have the top recruiting class of the Big Ten and the 49th highest in the country by Perfect Game Cross Checker. Iowa’s recruiting class consists of Nick Brown, Sean Flanagan, Cory Glieden, Jarred Hippen, Mike McQuillan, Zach Robertson, Phil Schreiber and Chett Zeise.
“It’s a nice honor but we need to get them here first,” Dahm said. “It is a solid class that fills our needs as a ball club. We are bringing in arms with a good feel for their secondary pitches and who we believe will make a big impact on our pitching staff. We are also bringing in some infielders who will add depth and healthy competition to our infield.”
While there is a bright future ahead of the Hawkeyes and several areas where the squad hopes to start where they left off, a tenth place finish in the conference is a constant reminder there is a lot of ground to cover from now until February 2009.
“Next year, we need to improve all phases of the game really,” Dahm said. “Our bunting wasn’t where it needed to be. We gave up bunting to make up for the amount of runs our opponents were scoring. Pitching needs to be more consistent. We are making strides in the right direction, some are coming back and we are excited for who is coming in. We need to have it gel and need to give them roles.”
Another addition for next year is that Big Ten conference series’ will only be three contests long. Three nine-inning games will be held Friday, Saturday and Sunday, starting next season. This change will accommodate weather problems and create better competition.
“My thinking is that a lot of big hitting teams won’t put up as big of numbers next season,” Dahm said. “The pitching will be more solid, because you will have potential starters put in as mid relief–overall, there will be more arms and more possibilities.”
Records Made in 2008
Team Single-Season Records
436 in 2008
138 in 2008
Stolen Base Attempts
176 in 2008
86 in 2008
Individual Single-Season Rankings/Records
9. Caleb Curry .396 2008
10. Justin Toole .395 2008
2. Justin Toole 87 2008
8. Caleb Curry 65 2008
8. Justin Toole 63 2008
1. Caleb Curry 45 2008
12. Justin Toole 24 2008
T-15. Kyle Riffel 20 2008
1. Kevin Hoef 20 2008
5. Kurtis Muller 14 2008
25 Games, Justin Toole, 2008
Individual Career Records
49, Kevin Hoef, 2006-08
15, Brian Mitchell, 1996-98
15, Caleb Curry, 2007-08
Individual Single-Game Records
5, on 11 occasions (last by Justin Toole vs. Northern Iowa, 2008)
5, twice, last by Justin Toole vs. Northern Iowa, 2008
2, on many occasions (last by Kurtis Muller, 2008)
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