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 JAMES ALLAN
IOWA CITY, Iowa — The University of Iowa baseball team passed its early Big Ten Conference tests.
The Hawkeyes went 3-2 in its first two league series’ with all three victories being in the “high-quality” category. Iowa split a weather-shortened series against No. 11 Indiana at Duane Banks Field before going on the road to take two of three games from No. 22 Illinois from March 30-April 1.
The road series win was Iowa’s first over a ranked opponent since 2015 when the Hawkeyes took two games at No. 16 Maryland.
“Beating Indiana and going on the road to take two of three from a good team, that was special,” said junior Chris Whelan, who is hitting .383 (18-of-47) with 15 runs scored since returning from injury March 17. “It was important to get off on the right foot in Big Ten play.”
Iowa was on the wrong side of a 4-2 loss to the Hoosiers in the first game of a March 23 doubleheader before the Hawkeyes evened the series with a 5-1 victory in game two. Mother Nature forced the teams to settle for the split as the finale was cancelled.
“Indiana is a great team, but we feel we let them off the hook by not playing Sunday and only getting the two games in,” said Whelan. “We believe we would have taken the series.
“That series was a huge wake-up call for us. Coach (Rick) Heller said, ‘If you guys don’t think we’re capable of winning this conference right now, then you never will.'”
The Hawkeyes carried momentum into Champaign, Illinois, to post an 8-5 victory over the Illini in the series opener before nearly pulling off a miraculous comeback in game two. Iowa trailed 10-0 before clawing to within 13-12 with a seven-run ninth. Iowa claimed the series with a 4-2 win April 1.
“We were able to take two of three despite not playing our best baseball,” said Whelan. “That gives us hope and it’s exciting. There is room for improvement and the sky is the limit. That’s important for us to see that we can win a series from a good team in Illinois when we’re not 100 percent.”
Whelan says the pieces are in place for a special season. He hears the parallels to the 2017 team — a team that won 39 games, a Big Ten Tournament title, and advanced to NCAA Regional play — but he thinks the current Hawkeyes can be even better.
“When everything starts clicking and everybody is on board, playing the way they’re capable of playing, I am excited to see where we can take this,” said Whelan. “There have been a lot of parallels drawn to our team last year, but I think this is a completely different team.
“We have a lot of talent on this team and once things start clicking, something special can happen.”
The Hawkeyes face Grand View in a midweek contest Wednesday at Duane Banks Field before welcoming Ohio State to Iowa City for a three-game series from April 7-10. The Buckeyes are tied with Indiana with a Big Ten-best 19 victories, sitting 19-8 overall.
“We have to enjoy the series win against Illinois, but we have to take care of business against Ohio State,” said Whelan. “We can’t take them lightly. Just because we beat two of the best teams in the conference doesn’t mean Ohio State isn’t going to come out and give us a fight. It’s going to be a battle. We have to be sure we do what we have to on the field.”
“If we go out and focus on what we can control, do our part, and not let the weather or what they’re doing affect us, we’ll have a chance to be pretty good again this weekend,” said senior Tyler Cropley. “The way we have played gives us a lot of confidence rolling into these next couple of weeks of Big Ten play.”