In the Thick of It


EDITOR’S NOTE: This article first appeared in Hawk Talk Monthly. Click HERE to read the full issue.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — With nine games remaining in the final three weeks of the regular season, the University of Iowa baseball team is in the thick of the Big Ten Conference race and postseason discussion.

The Hawkeyes are 21-14 overall, sitting three games behind league-leading Indiana (23-10) for first place, two games back of Nebraska (22-11) for second and 2 ½ games behind Michigan (23-12) for third. (Iowa is tied for fourth with Maryland.)

Iowa closes the regular season by hosting Illinois (16-18) for a three-game series from May 14-16 — the final home series of the season — before hitting the road to face Northwestern (12-16) and Michigan State (13-22) during the final two weekends in May.

“We have to keep playing our game and keep playing ball,” said redshirt senior Ben Norman, who is hitting a team-best .326 with a league-leading 46 RBIs. “We have to take it one game at a time and one series at a time, playing our game.”

The Hawkeyes opened the season with a 4-8 record. Since dropping two of three games to the Cornhuskers from March 19-21 in Iowa City, Iowa has won six of seven series and 17 of 23 games.

“We take it one game at a time, one foot forward,” said redshirt junior Brett McCleary, who hit a pinch-hit, walk-off three-run home run in a 12-9 come-from-behind win over Northwestern on April 26. “We treat every day like it could be our last day of baseball.

“We show up to the park and do what we can and if the postseason happens to come, this group will be excited. We’ll take it one game at a time and see how we end up.”

“We have to keep playing our game and keep playing ball. We have to take it one game at a time and one series at a time, playing our game.”

Redshirt senior outfielder Ben Norman

The Hawkeyes have been part of the weekly NCAA Regional projections by and Baseball America in each of the past four weeks. That would put Iowa in the NCAAs for a third time in the Rick Heller era, the first since 2017.

“It’s not something we can focus on,” said McCleary. “If we treat each day like that’s our challenge for the day and we take advantage of that, the chips will fall where they are.”

The Hawkeyes have rallied from deficits to win 10 games during the 2021 season. Five of the victories have seen Iowa rally in the sixth inning or later.

“That’s part of our culture,” said Norman. “We have a never-give-up-attitude. We want to be as tough as possible all the time. It comes with experience, too. We have a lot of older guys and know that we’re capable of coming back in games.

“Even if we’re down, we’re not out.”

That is why the Hawkeyes are in the thick of the Big Ten race and postseason discussion.

Here’s a rundown of the remaining schedules for the top five teams:

Indiana: at Michigan (3), Illinois (1), Nebraska (2), Ohio State (2), at Maryland (3)
Nebraska: Northwestern (3), at Indiana (2), vs. Ohio State (2), Michigan (3)
Michigan: Indiana (3), Maryland (3), at Nebraska (3)
Iowa: Illinois (3), at Northwestern (3), at Michigan State (3)
Maryland: Purdue (3), at Michigan (3), Indiana (3)