Iowa Accomplishes A Lot in 2010

June 16, 2010

The University of Iowa baseball team accomplished a lot of things in 2010. First, the squad tallied a 30-28 record, marking the second time in four years the Hawkeyes amassed 30 or more victories. A late surge earned the team a third place finish in the conference standings, after finishing 10th a year ago. The Hawkeyes then qualified for the Big Ten Tournament for only the eighth time in school history and third time under Head Coach Jack Dahm. At the tournament, the Hawkeyes placed second — tying the highest finish Iowa has ever accomplished at the conference tournament, last done in 1983. The Hawkeyes tallied three wins at the tournament, the first wins since 1990 and first under Dahm. Those are just a couple of the accomplishments among many the 2010 squad achieved.

“It was a fun experience for our guys,” Dahm said. “The whole year was a very enjoyable year, but especially when you look at the success that they had late. Our guys handled that situation very well, we gained some momentum heading into the tournament and I was concerned that they would be satisfied once we got there but they just kept playing. It was a big step for our program, winning three games when there were only four total in school history previously. Getting the wins puts that behind us now, we’ve had success at the Big Ten Tournament and we’ve now got to build on it.”

A feat that comes hand in hand with the team’s success at the tournament is Iowa beating Purdue five-straight times in a week. Iowa hosted the Boilermakers in the Big Ten regular season finale and swept them in three games, the first conference sweep of the season. The three-game series victory also was Iowa’s first in the conference since 2007 (vs. Indiana). The wins also clinched the first Hawkeye sweep to end the regular season since 1980 (vs. Michigan State in a two-game series).

“Getting the wins puts that behind us now, we’ve had success at the Big Ten Tournament and we’ve now got to build on it.”
Head Coach Jack Dahm

After qualifying for the tournament with a Purdue sweep, Iowa was slated to take on the Boilermakers in the tournament opener– the Hawkeyes defeated Purdue, 7-4, with an excellent performance by starting ace Jarred Hippen.

“I was very proud of our guys,” Dahm said. “Purdue did a good job and made it a competitive game. But Jarred did a tremendous job out there on the mound. He continued throughout the year to mature as a pitcher. As a team, it all starts on the mound and I was proud he kept his composure and settled in.”

After losing game two to Michigan, Iowa was scheduled to play Purdue, yet again, to stay alive in the double elimination tournament. The Hawkeyes routed the Boilermakers, 15-5, to win their fifth straight over Purdue. The last time Iowa won five straight over Purdue was the last three games in 1989 and first two contests of a four-game series in 1992; the two teams did not compete in 1990 and 1991.

The tournament berth and success was spurred by Iowa winning 11 of its final 14 contests, including taking four of its final five conference series’. Besides the sweep over Purdue, the Hawkeyes took two games and the series from both Michigan and Ohio State at home, and two games from Penn State on the road. Iowa looked like a different ball club the final weeks of the season, playing with confidence and truly having fun. This can be partially attributed to Assistant Coach Ryan Brownlee’s play ‘pitch to pitch’ mentality that the squad embraced.

“Our team simplified the game, they started to trust the process instead of worrying about wins,” Dahm said. “What we said was ‘learn to play pitch by pitch’ and it really helped our guys. The last three weeks were very critical for us to make the Big Ten Tournament. Instead of worrying about winning, we started to play pitch to pitch and it took a lot of pressure off our guys. We talked about trusting each other, being unselfish and just going out and doing what we needed to do. This ball club was incredibly unselfish all year long and that was part of the reason we were able to go on that run– because of their selflessness, great attitude and the fact that they continued to work hard every day.”

Kurtis Muller

At the tournament Kurtis Muller and Jarred Hippen were recognized on the all-Big Ten Tournament team after having great performances. Muller tied a tournament record and set another. The leadoff hitter recorded three thefts in Iowa’s second victory over Purdue at the tournament, which tied an individual game tournament record held by fellow Hawkeye Craig Conti (1983) and Minnesota’s Ryan Lefebvre (1992). Muller also tallied six stolen bases in Iowa’s five games at the tournament surpassing the previous record holder Matt Nohelty with five (of Minnesota in 2009).

Muller had a fantastic year for Iowa that ended with him being drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in the 22nd round (667th pick). The Sun Prairie, WI, native was named second team all-Big Ten by the league’s coaches and was also an all-Big Ten Tournament selection. The junior outfielder led the team in 10 statistical categories, including at bats (218), runs (57), hits (83), triples (6), slugging percentage (.546), walks (24), hit by pitches (9), on base percentage (.460), stolen bases (30) and fielding percentage (1.000%). Muller’s 83 hits ranked fourth-best in a single-season in school history. When compared to others in the conference, Muller ranked in the top ten in fielding percentage (first), triples (second), stolen bases (second), batting average (fifth), on base percentage (fourth) and hits (fourth). He tied a school single-game record after collecting five base hits at Penn State. The leadoff hitter was named Big Ten Player of the Week twice this year (May 11 and May 25).

“Kurtis had an outstanding year for us,” Dahm said. “He was the guy who really got us going from an offensive stand point. When he got on base we usually scored and he just put so much pressure on the opponent. He was there at crunch time, when we needed him, he was there for us. Looking at what he did offensively is impressive, but also add what he contributed defensively and from a leadership stand point. Defensively, he played as good of a center field as I’ve ever seen, from covering a lot of ground and throwing out five guys to being the leader of the outfield. Besides that, he stepped up into the leadership role this season. He did a tremendous for us this year.”

Besides being honored on the all-tournament team, Hippen also earned a second team all-Big Ten bid. The Rock Falls, IL, native has led the Hawkeyes to six wins this season in 15 starts. He boasted a team-low 3.71 ERA, four complete games and better than a two-to-one strikeout-to-walk ratio. The southpaw’s four complete games are the first nine inning gems thrown by a Hawkeye since 2004 (Nathan Johnson on May 14, 2004 vs. Purdue). Hippen ranked in the top ten amongst other Big Ten pitchers in ERA, innings pitched, strikeouts and starts. The lefty earned co-Big Ten Pitcher of the Week on May 25 after leading Iowa to a 7-2 win over Purdue. He became the first Hawkeye pitcher to earn second team honors since Nick Erdman in 2007.

Jarred Hippen

“Jarred just continues to get better and better,” Dahm said. “He is continuing to mature but there is a still a lot in Jarred, which is the exciting part for us. He really had some outstanding ballgames for us this season and when we needed a win he was able to go out there and get it for us. He still has a lot of work ahead of him but he has proven he can pitch in big game situations and that he’s not afraid of anyone.”

Other Hawkeyes honored by the Big Ten were Zach McCool as a third team recipient and Mike Corbeil, an all-freshman team honoree.

Another Hawkeye that may not have gotten accolades to show his importance to the team was redshirt junior Tyson Blaser. After battling injuries the past two seasons having Blaser in the lineup regularly was a huge help to the coaches and players. Blaser took the leadership role as a seasoned veteran amongst a young team. As, sometimes, the only upperclassman in the battery, Blaser had no problem calling a timeout to go out to the mound and help Iowa’s youth through a jam.

Tyson Blaser

“When you talk about leaders, ours was Tyson,” Dahm said. “We saw Tyson gain confidence throughout the year, each day on the field. He had a rough two years with injuries but this year, I felt like he was as good of a catcher as in any our league. I wouldn’t trade Tyson for any other catcher because he brought exactly what we needed from a leadership and energy stand point. Inside the white lines, Tyson was very serious but outside of them he was having a lot of fun.”

Every player had a role by the end of the season and perhaps it had stayed consistent with what was asked of them the year before, or perhaps it had changed drastically. Pitcher Zach Robertson’s role changed from starter to reliever– and he embraced it. Robertson, from Des Moines, IA, was picked by the Florida Marlins in the 30th round (917th pick). The southpaw was dominant in conference play for the Hawkeyes and finished Big Ten play with a team-best 2.45 ERA and a 4-0 record in 13 appearances. Conference opponents hit only .195 off the southpaw and he struck out 24 in 22 innings of work. In overall games, Robertson had the second-lowest ERA on the team (4.02) and compiled a team-high eight wins with six starts and 24 appearances on the mound. The lefty finished his senior campaign with left-handed opponents hitting a mere .123 off him and a 2.5 strikeout to walk ratio. Robertson also had a lot of success in the Northwoods League and finished the season with the league’s records in career strikeouts (266) and career starts (37).

“Zach made a big difference in our pitching staff once he established himself as a go-to guy out of the bullpen,” Dahm said. “Once he got acclimated for coming out in relief, it just set us up. You look at the last 14 games and Zach was 5-0 and came in, in some big situations. We didn’t lose a game all year with the lead after the sixth inning and a lot of that had to do with Zach and our bullpen.”

With closer Mike Schurz drafted, Iowa came into the season with a new look– right-hander Kevin Lee. The herky-jerky closer broke a school single-season record, with 13 saves. The righty originally came to Iowa as a catcher however over the past few seasons has been molded into a pitcher with as much competitive fire as any on the squad. Lee finished the year with the team’s third-best ERA (5.75) and in conference play, struck out 10 in eight and two-third innings pitched. Lee never blew a save opportunity and ended up with a perfect 2-0 record in 21 appearances.

Kevin Lee

“If you look at his ERA it is not impressive but when you look at what he does when the game is on the line. It is hard to find a guy that can get that last out but Kevin has proved that he can do that with 13 saves, setting a school record, and also being 2-0. Again, if you took out his non save situations his ERA was outstanding. Each time out our guys continued to get more and more confidence in him. He is a gutsy kid that isn’t afraid of anything.”

The Hawkeyes finished the season with a lot to look forward to and with that, only four seniors leave the team; Robertson, Ryan Durant, Michael Jacobs and Patrick Schatz. The Hawkeyes boasted a lot of youth with 18 of their 30-man roster being underclassman.

“We had a lot of experience coming back this year,” Dahm said. “Dan Sheppard was thrown into the fire very early on and he played extremely well until he got injured. Mike Corbeil, Matt Dermody, Andrew Host and Ricky Sandquist got their opportunities and played very well. I was very excited about the progress our freshman made. Our freshman class played a very big part in our success this year, starting off in minor roles but then increasing their roles as the season went on.”

So after tying a school record, finishing the Big ten Tournament as the runner-up– the Hawkeyes have a lot to look forward to in 2011. And while it is alright for the team and coaches to take a few weeks, perhaps, to soak in the success they encountered at the end of their season, Dahm knows there is still work ahead and that the tournament berth was the first of many and that a championship victory is the goal.

“Despite being successful this season, it is not going to be automatic that we will be good next year,” Dahm said. “We have to work just as hard the next 12 months as we did the past 12 months and if we do that, stay positive and continued to have a very unselfish approach — we have a chance to get back into the Big Ten Tournament and hopefully leave with a championship.”

A number of Iowa’s returnees have left Iowa City to play summer ball and work on improving their game. Check back to throughout the summer for updates on the Hawkeye players’ progress.