May 2, 2012
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Editor’s note: 24 Hawkeyes to Watch is a feature released Thursday, July 28, highlighting one athlete from each of the 24 intercollegiate sports offered by the University of Iowa. More than 700 talented student-athletes are currently busy preparing for the 2011-12 athletics year at the UI. Hawkeyesports.com will introduce you to 24 Hawkeyes who, for one reason or another, are poised to play a prominent role in the intercollegiate athletics program at the UI in the coming year.
IOWA CITY, Iowa — The more University of Iowa head baseball coach Jack Dahm sees Mike McQuillan play, the more he realizes McQuillan was born to hit.
Since arriving on campus in 2009, the Evergreen Park, Ill., native has finished batting above .330 in each of his first three seasons. McQuillan has a .343 career batting average with 229 hits, 30 doubles, four triples and eight home runs. The hit total is the third most in UI baseball history.
“It isn’t easy to do,” said Dahm of hitting above .300 every season. “He has been here at the toughest time with the bat changes. The bats went from a live bat to becoming the deadest the bat has been in the history of college baseball, and it hasn’t affected Mike.”
“It’s the same game,” said McQuillan. “You still have to get the barrel on the ball. It has been a good transition, and I think it is good for the game.”
McQuillan began playing T-ball as a five or six-year old, but he was swinging a baseball bat or golf club before that. His father, Robert, spent a lot of time in the back yard throwing balls to his son, and he picked up the art of hitting early.
“Anything my dad threw to me I was hitting,” said McQuillan. “It didn’t matter if it was a goofy whiffle ball that would curve, I was hitting it at a young age.”
McQuillan carried his hitting acumen into prep baseball, where he was a four-time all-conference and all-district selection at Brother Rice High School. He also was a two-time all-state honoree, and finished his career as the record-holder for single season total bases, hits and runs scored.
Dahm first saw McQuillan play in Chicago at the Black and Silver Series at Triton Junior College, and he fell in love with his offensive potential.
“The thing that stuck out with me about Mike is he was a tremendous offensive player,” said Dahm. “He is one of those guys that was born to hit. I fell in love with him, the way he plays the game — he plays extremely hard and is a very aggressive player. I loved the way he swung the bat and that was something our program needed was a true left-handed hitter.”
McQuillan made an instant impact for the Hawkeyes as a freshman, finishing with a .360 mark in 36 games. He posted the second best mark on the squad as a sophomore, hitting .344 with 73 hits and 39 RBIs before hitting .330 with a career-high 11 doubles during his junior campaign.
After hitting in the two or three position in the lineup during his first three seasons, McQuillan made the move to the leadoff position during his final go-round, and he has flourished.
“I am more focused on seeing pitches and trying to get on base,” he said of his new role at the top of the order. “When I hit 2-3, I was more focused on driving the ball and getting RBIs, but now it is more about getting on base and being a table setter for the other guys.”
McQuillan is second on the team with a .345 batting average with a team-best 50 hits and 37 runs scored. He also has 21 RBIs and a team-high 11 stolen bases.
“He has embraced it, been very unselfish and become a little more patient hitter, which has helped him,” said Dahm. “If you look at the amount of runs scored this year, it is off the charts. He gets on bases, and he is stealing bases.”
McQuillan also showed his team-first attitude in the field during his senior season. After starting 129 games during his first three seasons at second base, he made the defensive move to first base in 2012.
“Here is a guy that has been a three-year starter at second base, and we asked him to move to first base because our best offensive and defensive lineup would be with Jake Mangler at second base and Mike at first,” said Dahm. “He was a little reluctant in the fall, but we talked to him and he said `if this is the best thing for the team, feel free.”
McQuillan’s career highlight as a Hawkeye came in 2010 when Iowa battled its way to the championship at the Big Ten Tournament. It was during the tournament that McQuillan made a running, sliding catch in the field that put him as the No. 2 play on SportsCenter’s top-10 list.
“I didn’t even see it until the next day,” he said. “I woke up in the morning and had 60-70 text messages and a bunch of missed phone calls. Jarred Hippen is my roommate on the road, and he wakes me up the next morning and says `Dude, you’re on ESPN! You’re No. 2 on the top 10 plays.’
“I said `Get out of here,’ because Hippen’s a goof ball… and there it was… it was unreal. But what was even more fun about the Big Ten Tournament was making it to the championship game.”
More than three years later, McQuillan doesn’t know what will go through his mind the final time he slides on his Iowa uniform.
“It’s hard to believe that it is already here,” he said. “It seems like yesterday that I was signing my National Letter of Intent. It has been a fun run, and hopefully we can make a run at the Big Tens. I am not really worried about after this year… I am more focused on the Big Ten Tournament.
“I will wait and see what happens with baseball. If I get the opportunity to keep playing, I am going to do that for as long as possible.”
McQuillan will graduate in May with a degree in interdepartmental studies, an accomplishment that sticks with Dahm more than any of McQuillan’s 229 hits.
“The thing I am proudest of with Mike is academically,” said Dahm. “He is going to graduate in four years, and it hasn’t been easy for him. He has done everything he has had to do to stay on track and be eligible, and I am very proud of the fact he has done that.”