Lee Confident in the Clutch

April 5, 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 playing two seasons of junior college baseball, Kurt Lee traveled 1,800 miles to continue his collegiate career in Iowa City.

Hitting coach Ryan Brownlee flew to California last year to recruit the 5-foot-10 shortstop to help solidify the position for the Hawkeyes.

“Coach Brownlee really liked the way Kurt played,” said UI head coach Jack Dahm. “He was a guy we thought that could come in and play solid defense, swing the bat a little bit and steal some bases. Also, he’s a tremendous student. We’ve been very happy with the progress Kurt’s been making.”

Lee has started all but four games midway through his second season with the Hawkeyes. Last year, he was a mainstay at the bottom of the lineup, but has seen more swings near the top of the order in 2011. The reason for increased opportunities is due to driving in runs in clutch situations.

“Kurt has had some of the biggest hits in our program the last year and a half,” said Dahm. “He had a game-winning home run against Ohio State, big hits against Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament, and key hits earlier this year against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and Georgia State.”

Dahm mentioned another reason for moving him up in the order is because of his confidence and mental approach.

“The thing I like about Kurt is that when he makes a mistake, he moves on and doesn’t dwell on it,” said Dahm. “His mentality is very good. He likes being in those situations; he’s not going to shy away from being in a big situation. He really thrives on it.”

Lee has been putting pressure on the opposition with the bat and on the base paths. He ranks second on team in RBI (12), and ranks first in walks (11) and stolen bases (8). More importantly, with runners in scoring position, he is pacing the squad with a .406 clip.

Moving up in the order and asked to be a run producer hasn’t changed Lee’s mindset.

“You still have to hit your pitches in your counts,” said Lee, who hails from Redding, Calif., and is the only California native on the Hawkeye roster. “I’m more focused on getting good pitches, in good hitting counts and putting my best swing on them. You still need to put a good at-bat together and give yourself a good chance to square a ball up. Also, experience has been key — knowing what I can handle in certain situations.”

Although Lee has only been at Iowa a year and a half, he is viewed as a team leader.

“Kurt’s done a nice job,” said Dahm. “He’s really a great kid, a good teammate and has worked hard for us. He’s done a real nice job being a leader for the younger guys.”

Iowa opened its Big Ten schedule last weekend with a three-game series against Michigan State. After dropping the first two games, Lee said the team needed to get back to basics and play fundamental baseball.

“We’ve got to put together complete games,” said Lee. “We need to encompass solid pitching, fielding and offense all into one game. It seems like we’ve had one or the other the last couple weeks. We’re a team that needs to put together complete games. As soon as we start doing that the rest will take care of itself and we can beat anyone. But, until then it’s going to be hit and miss.”

Lee was right on the money; the Hawkeyes put together a complete game in the series finale on Sunday, and in the process routed the Spartans 19-7. The Hawkeye defense played errorless baseball, the offense exploded for 19 runs on 17 hits, while the pitching staff combined to strike out nine Spartans.

“This is a new start because this is the season that matters,” said Lee about the start of Big Ten competition. “If we do well here, everything will take care of itself, but we need to improve upon what we’ve already done and improve our approach.”

Lee and the Hawkeyes look to build on Sunday’s rout over Michigan State Wednesday when they entertain Coe College, in a non-conference game, at 6 p.m. at Duane Banks Field.