Baseball Opens Home Season Today


March 25, 2011

Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.

IOWA CITY, Iowa – – After 17 games and traveling over 5,200 miles the first month of the season, the Iowa baseball team finally gets to sleep in their own beds this weekend and play their first home game of 2011.

Iowa plays its home opener tonight against Western Illinois. First pitch is slated for 5:35 p.m. at Duane Banks Field.

“The travel was tough for us,” said head coach Jack Dahm. “It’s going to be nice to be at home and play in front of our fans. We used this week to get ourselves refocused and recharge our batteries.”

Some of the early season highlights for the Hawkeyes include a pair of victories at Mississippi State, a walk-off extra-inning win over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and two triumphs over Notre Dame. The two wins over Mississippi State marked the first time an Iowa team has posted two wins over the Southeastern Conference in the same season.

The Hawkeyes have played a number of close games, including going 4-2 in one-run contests. Dahm has a veteran team and admires how they have been battling.

“Our guys don’t panic,” said Dahm. “We’ve been behind in some games and been able to fight back. In other games, we’ve had the lead where the opponent has come back, but we’ve been able to hold them off. We’ve showed a lot of composure, which is very important and a sign of a veteran club.”

Iowa enters tonight’s game with a 7-10 record, but the Hawkeyes have challenged themselves with a demanding schedule out of the gates. The Hawkeyes’ strength of schedule ranks 17th in the country, which is the best in the Big Ten (Illinois ranks second with a schedule strength of 84).

“My philosophy has always been to play a challenging schedule, but also one in which you can have success with,” said Dahm. “We left a couple wins on the field, which is disappointing. For a northern program to go out and play that type of schedule and have some success is something that is going to benefit us. When we begin conference play next weekend, our guys will be as prepared as any team in the Big Ten.”

After a month on the field, Dahm believes the team is making strides defensively.

“The biggest thing I’m excited about is defensively we’re definitely making a lot of progress,” said Dahm. “Andrew Ewing (third base) and Kurt Lee (shortstop) have been making some great plays, along with Mike McQuillan (second base). Also, Trevor Willis (center field) has really elevated his game. Tyson Blaser behind the plate; he’s as good as anyone in the country — not only throwing people out, but blocking balls and handling our pitching staff. We have a nice nucleus of veterans up the middle.”

Dahm is also excited about the starting pitching. Jarred Hippen, Nick Brown and Matt Dermody have been throwing the ball well and giving the Hawkeyes an opportunity to win. The starting trio has limited opposing batters to a combined .271 batting average.

Brown is the reigning Big Ten Pitcher of the Week after dominating Notre Dame in an 11-2 victory a week ago. He became the first Hawkeye to earn the weekly honor since 2008.

With a majority of the non-conference games in the books, a couple players who have been pleasant surprises and made their way into the starting lineup are Ewing at third base and freshman Bryan Niedbalski at first.

“Andrew and Bryan have taken advantage of their opportunities,” said Dahm. “Andrew gives us a solid glove at third base and is swinging the bat consistently. We knew he was going to play, but for him to go out there and grab that starting position is a positive. We knew Bryan would battle for starting time, and he has come up with some big hits for us. He has a chance to be an outstanding defensive player.”

Ewing has started 13 games and is batting .318 and is tied for first on the team with eight RBI, while Niedbalsiki is batting .306 in 10 starts.

Willis has been Iowa’s offensive catalyst at the top of the lineup, batting .343 and scoring 14 runs. He earned Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week laurels March 7 after recording back-to-back four-hit outings in Iowa’s two wins over Mississippi State.

“We’re getting tougher from a mental stand point and have an understanding of how we need to play in order to be successful,” said Dahm. “I’m excited about the direction we are going and the attitudes of our players.”