Feb. 18, 2010
By Sean Neugent
IOWA CITY, Iowa — For those looking forward to leaving cold temperatures behind and looking for spring, there is always a sign that it is right around the corner: baseball season is on the horizon.
No one is looking forward to spring and a fresh start more than the University of Iowa baseball team which enters 2010 as a healthy ballclub.
The Hawkeyes looked geared and ready to go Thursday afternoon inside the bubble during baseball media day, and it was evident that they are excited to get the season going Saturday for their first game against Illinois State.
“We’re looking forward to this coming year,” UI head coach Jack Dahm said. “We made a lot of progress since we started practicing in the fall and we definitely needed to. At the same time I think that we have made as much progress as any team that we have been around.”
The Hawkeyes, who three years ago went 31-23, have been lost in the shuffle the past two seasons, going 22-33 in 2008 and 16-35 this past season. Still, the team has a lot of confidence going into this year and for good reason — Iowa suffered numerous injuries last year that gave young players a tremendous amount of game-time experience as starters.
“This year is just a totally more positive atmosphere with the team,” UI outfielder Ryan Durant said. “I expect a lot out of us this year and I am very confident for this year and real excited. Last year was a negative, but that is behind us now.”
“I am very excited about the guy’s work ethics, their attitudes,” Dahm said. “To me the biggest thing is that we learned a lot last year, we had a lot of struggles and we didn’t handle adversity very well. Also in the past two years I think we lost our identity to our program and how we need to play in order to be successful.”
To be successful the Hawkeyes know that they need to get back to knowing what to do in certain situations and to be aggressive, especially on the base paths. The defense was a little rusty in the fall, but Dahm believes that they are developing into a great defensive team. In collegiate baseball , more times than not, the offense will be there, but the key to being successful in the NCAA is defense, pitching and limiting mistakes.
There is only one senior (Durant) who will be an everyday starter. The rest of the lineup consists of four juniors and four sophomores.
Despite a disappointing injury-plagued season last year, Hawkeyes players received a lot of good news in the offseason.
“I want to be a gritty team. One that is going to put pressure on people and one that is going to be able to handle adversity. Last year we had a lot of tough breaks with injuries and we created some problems ourselves and we didn’t handle that very well. Some of it had to do with the people that were filling in were young guys, freshman who didn’t know what to expect and got thrown into the fire. I think we are going to benefit from that this year.”
UI head coach Jack Dahm
Left-handed pitcher Matt Dermody made national news on the mound when he threw a perfect six-inning game at Norwalk High School for a 10-0 win. Dermody struck out all 18 batters he faced, a first for any Iowa high school athlete. He also provided a homerun of his own during the game. His performance landed him on ESPNs “SportsCenter” among other national publications.
Outfielder Kurtis Muller received several honors in the Northwood’s League and was named the NWL All-Star Game Most Valuable Player. Pitcher Zach Robertson broke two records in the NWL this past summer and also picked up the win in the league championship. He finished with a league-best career strikeouts record of 266 and had a record-breaking 37 starts at pitcher.
Durant who was named last year’s MVP of the team, along with former player Justin Toole, will look to lead the Hawkeyes again this year. Durant dominated competition with a .370 batting average in 181 at bats and had 23 multi-hit games. Muller and Trevor Willis are the other two starters in the outfield. The infield will have a complete makeover this season as starters Wes Freie, TJ Cataldo, Kevin Hoef, and Toole all graduated. The Hawkeyes are not worried about replacing the entire infield as the new starters coming in all have game experience. Sean Flanagan, Mike McQuillan, Chett Zeise and Kurt Lee will take over the infield.
“I want to be a gritty team,” Dahm said. “One that is going to put pressure on people and one that is going to be able to handle adversity. Last year we had a lot of tough breaks with injuries and we created some problems ourselves and we didn’t handle that very well. Some of it had to do with the people that were filling in were young guys, freshman who didn’t know what to expect and got thrown into the fire. I think we are going to benefit from that this year.”
“We are doing well and we are excited,” said Zeise about the infield. “We put a lot of work in during the fall, the infielders were there probably an hour before every practice taking ground balls and that was something we didn’t do last year. We are really working hard.”
Iowa will have depth again at catcher as Tyson Blaser is back for the Hawkeyes. Dallas Burke who was their only healthy catcher last season after Blaser went down with an injury early on will look to start the season as a designated hitter.
The Hawkeyes have a brutal nonconference schedule to start the season, but they know it will show just where they stand in the nation. They face two Top-25 teams at Kansas and the No. 1 team in the nation Texas in Austin.
“It is a great opportunity for our guys,” Dahm said. “I compare it to what football went through, football is in a different stage than we are going into the season, but they embraced their road schedule. That is what we are talking about. Where would you rather go than play Texas at Texas? It is a great opportunity. We are really a freshman-sophomore dominated team and in order to be a team that can handle playing in the Big Ten Tournament or playing in the NCAA Regionals, we need to play at places like Texas. It is going to be a learning experience.”
The Hawkeyes are looking to once again find their identity and take it one game at a time. They will look to get off on the right foot when left-handed pitcher Jarred Hippen takes the mound on Saturday in Clarksville, Tenn., against Illinois State at 11 a.m. Iowa will also play Austin Peay at 3 p.m. inside Raymond C. Hand Park. Right-handed pitcher Phil Schreiber is schedule to start against Austin Peay.