March 7, 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 — The University of Iowa baseball team has bought in to first-year head coach Rick Heller’s philosophies, and it has translated to the program’s best start in 74 years.
The Hawkeyes have swept back-to-back weekends to run its winning streak to seven games and improve the team’s record to 9-1. As a result, Iowa is receiving votes in the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association rankings.
Heller says the team’s torrid start is a result of the Hawkeyes playing for each other, being unselfish and checking their egos at the door.
“When you stop worrying about your batting average, ERA, how many guys you’ve struck out or the number of home runs you hit, and you focus on what you can do to help the team win then it takes pressure off people individually,” said Heller, who is one victory shy of reaching the 700-win milestone in his 26-plus year coaching career.
“It will be a good measuring stick for us because we haven’t played top-tier competition yet. We can’t let off the pedal, put the brakes on or sit back and play easy. We have to keep going to it. Once we get easy, people get back on their heels. We have to keep putting it to teams.”
UI junior outfielder Eric Toole
“When you don’t have pressure you can play relaxed and for each other. That’s what we’ve tried to get the guys to buy into since the beginning of the fall. We have some fantastic leaders with our older guys, and they’ve done a good job making sure the team is buying in from within.”
The Hawkeyes head to Big 12 country this weekend for their biggest test to date in Manhattan, Kan. Iowa will use the weekend as a trial run for a Big Ten series, as it will play a three-game set against a Kansas State team that was within a pebble’s toss from reaching the 2013 NCAA College World Series.
“It will be a great challenge for us because Kansas State has a good team,” said Heller. “You’re talking about a Super Regional team that has a lot of guys back and is one of the best hitting teams in the country. It’s the perfect time for us to have that challenge.
“We’re on a roll, we’ve beaten teams we should beat, but we need a good challenge right now.”
Iowa opened the season by winning 2-of-3 games at Austin Peay before rolling off seven-straight victories in a pair of tournaments in Florida. The Hawkeyes have been an offensive juggernaut through the first three weeks, scoring 90 runs in 10 contests, while being in the top-two in the Big Ten in 12-of-14 offensive categories.
“It will be a good measuring stick for us because we haven’t played top-tier competition yet,” said junior Eric Toole. “Austin Peay is a great program, and Stetson, Furman, and Maine are tough, but Kansas State will be another measuring stick for us.
“We can’t let off the pedal, put the brakes on or sit back and play easy. We have to keep going to it. Once we get easy, people get back on their heels. We have to keep putting it to teams.”
Heller’s message to the Hawkeyes isn’t going to change in the Little Apple. He stresses the importance of playing the game the right way and playing good, clean baseball.
“We don’t concern ourselves with the name on the jersey,” said Heller. “We’re totally focused on what we can do. If we can do that, we can give ourselves a good chance. Some teams have a hard time doing that, so it will be a good test to see if we can eliminate the K-State on the jersey and just play the game.”
Friday and Saturday’s games are set to begin at 3 p.m. (CT) at Tointon Family Stadium, while Sunday’s finale is slated for a 1 p.m. start. All three games can be heard via live audio at www.kstatesports.com.