May 26, 2015
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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. To receive daily news from the Iowa Hawkeyes, sign up HERE.
By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — It has been 25 years since the University of Iowa baseball team last played in an NCAA Regional. But when it comes to important dates in Hawkeye history, May 23, 2014, might be more significant.
It was 368 days ago when Michigan eliminated a 30-win Iowa team, 7-1, in the Big Ten Tournament in Omaha, Nebraska. According to UI head coach Rick Heller, when his team walked off the field that day, they did so with a sense of belief and confidence that they were every bit as good as anyone else in the league.
The Hawkeye student-athletes worked hard in summer. And fall. And winter. They won 39 games and finished second in the Big Ten in 2015, climbing as high as 13th in the national polls.
On Monday they were invited back to an NCAA Regional for the first time since 1990. The second-seeded Hawkeyes (39-16 overall) open against No. 3-seed Oregon (37-23) on May 29 at noon (CT) in Springfield, Missouri.
“It is no accident that this happened,” Heller said Monday at an NCAA Regional Watch Party in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. “They put in the time and effort and they deserve it. You could feel their confidence was there and they knew they could make a run if they put the work in.”
UI senior pitcher Nick Hibbing was one of several Hawkeyes to scribble “NCAA Regionals” on the team’s goal list for 2015. It wasn’t a wild dream, even though Hibbing wasn’t born until two years after Iowa’s last trip to NCAA postseason.
“We have had eyes on us and media attention because of the turn-around we had, so we’re looking forward to making that next step and this was part of our plan,” Hibbing said. “It was on our goals that we wrote out at the start of the year, so this was just part of the plan and now we need to take the next step.”
Hibbing has done his part with 22 appearances out of the bullpen. The 6-foot-6 right-hander has a 3-1 record, seven saves, and a 1.74 ERA in 41 1/3 innings.
“It is no accident that this happened. They put in the time and effort and they deserve it. You could feel their confidence was there and they knew they could make a run if they put the work in.”
UI baseball coach
Although the Hawkeyes did not play in Springfield this season, they did hand top-seeded and host Missouri State its first loss, 6-5, on Feb. 21 in Grand Prairie, Texas. UI junior Tyler Peyton broke a 5-5 tie with a game-winning RBI single in the bottom of the ninth inning.
“This season was fantastic, phenomenal, and really a breakout season for Iowa baseball,” Peyton said. “I believe we did our part.”
Peyton leads Iowa at the plate with a .352 average (62-for-176) with 11 doubles. On the mound he is 6-4 with a 3.18 ERA and a team-high 69 strikeouts in 87 2/3 innings.
Oregon won nine of its final 10 games, including two in a row from UCLA, the top seed in the NCAA Tournament. George Horton is in his seventh season as head coach of the Ducks.
“Oregon is no easy draw,” Heller said. “It is one of the hottest teams out there and George Horton is one of the best coaches in America. They have a great coaching staff; they will be as prepared as anybody for us. It’s not going to be an easy one.”
Iowa was 0-2 at the 1990 Northeast Regional in Waterbury, Connecticut. The Hawkeyes lost to Maine, 4-3, and to North Carolina, 5-3. Iowa also advanced to regionals in 1972 and 1975. The 25-year postseason slump has ended.
“It says that we’re changing the culture around here,” UI senior Jake Mangler said. “Things are going in a positive way and we’re bringing success into the baseball program. That’s something coach talks to us a lot about — leave a legacy.”
The culture change corresponds with Heller’s two seasons in Iowa City when the Hawkeyes are 69-39.
“Without that tradition of winning and getting there consistently or every once in a while seems pretty monumental when you throw that out as a goal,” Heller said. “For these guys to take it and run with it and believe makes me proud of their efforts. Hopefully we can have a good week of practice and show well in the regional.”
Joining Iowa, Oregon, and Missouri State in the regional is Canisius (34-28) from Buffalo, New York. The Golden Griffins are champions of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.