Feb. 19, 2014
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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.
By JAMES ALLAN
IOWA CITY, Iowa — During the opening weekend of the 2014 University of Iowa baseball season, the Hawkeyes had a power surge.
In 49 games and 1,748 at-bats in 2013, Iowa finished with two home runs.
In three games and 109 at-bats in their season-opening series at Austin Peay, the Hawkeyes belted three home runs — one in each of the three contests.
“Who knows if it’s just one weekend, it’s a small sample size, but hopefully what we’ve been working on is helping the guys,” said UI hitting coach Marty Sutherland.
“He works hard, cares, and wants to be a good player. Those are the main things that need to happen otherwise whatever we do with him doesn’t matter. He has gotten off to a great start and hopefully it’s something that continues. He’s confident right now, and with his physical ability, he could be really special.”
UI hitting coach Marty Sutherland on Blake Hickman
Sophomore Blake Hickman accounted for two of Iowa’s three blasts, and he hit .364 with seven RBIs and five runs in leading the Hawkeyes to a pair of victories over a Governor program that has advanced to three-straight NCAA Regionals.
Hickman says the team is thriving with a new approach at the plate.
“(UI head coach Rick) Heller wants our bigger guys trying to put the ball into the gaps and hit line drives,” said Hickman. “The main thing is it’s about being aggressive and when you get your pitch, don’t miss it and getting the best swing possible.”
In Iowa’s season-opening 11-5 victory, Hickman tallied a single hit, but boy did he make it count. Trailing 1-0 in the fourth, Hickman stepped to the plate with no outs and the bases loaded, and with one swing of the bat, he gave the Hawkeyes a 4-1 advantage.
“Right before I went up (to the plate), (Jake) Yacinich told me to try and hit a line drive because the infield was in,” said Hickman. “I wasn’t even thinking about hitting a home run because I hadn’t hit any since I was in high school.
“I went up there, missed a fast ball and the next pitch I got another fast ball right down the middle of the plate and put a good swing on it.”
In the second game of the season, senior Taylor Zeutenhorst connected on a three-run shot to right center field in a 10-run second inning in an eventual 15-13 Iowa win. Hickman struck again in the series finale, this time hitting a pinch-hit solo home run to centerfield, giving Iowa a 4-2 lead in the sixth inning.
“We were staying with our approach and not trying to do too much,” said Hickman. “That’s the biggest thing coach Heller is telling us is to get a good swing and not think too much at the plate.”
It’s the message Sutherland and Heller have been hammering home since fall ball practice began in September, and it has carried over into the spring.
“One thing we constantly talk about is getting their best swing whether it’s the first pitch or seventh pitch,” said Sutherland. “We concentrate on getting their swing off and do a lot of drills that forces them to have their swing sequence the right away and their legs are a big part of their swing. That’s where your power comes from, the ability to start the swing from the ground up.”
Sutherland says Hickman’s approach to the game is what is making him successful early in 2014.
“He works hard, cares, and wants to be a good player,” said Sutherland. “Those are the main things that need to happen otherwise whatever we do with him doesn’t matter. He has gotten off to a great start and hopefully it’s something that continues. He’s confident right now, and with his physical ability, he could be really special.”
The Hawkeyes return to action Friday at the Snowbird Baseball Classic in Port Charlotte, Fla. Iowa opens play against Mississippi Valley State beginning at 1:30 p.m. (CT) before facing St. Bonaventure and Ball State on Saturday and Nebraska-Omaha on Sunday.