Last weekend the Hawks played competitively against Ohio State in both ends of the Saturday doubleheader, but were handled in both the Friday and Sunday games. On Friday, the Buckeyes won 7-1, and rapped out 15 hits against Hawk starter Reed Pawelk and reliever Chris Maliszewski. Pawelk struck out seven in six and one-third innings, but left too many pitches up in the zone. The left-handed Maliszewski was very effective against the predominantly left-handed OSU lineup, but gave up one run and three hits in two and two-thirds innings. In the losing effort, 1B Brad Carlson, DH Andy Jansen, and RF John Paul Cappellano all had two hits and swung with authority. Iowa had ten hits as a team, but only mustered one run. "Our seniors are swinging the bat well and swinging with consistency," said Coach Scott Broghamer, "but we need to get the whole team on the same page. Some of it is the confidence that younger players need to develop, but confidence is harder to come by unless you have success. Some of our younger guys also need to get better at adjusting to how they are being pitched from game to game and at bat to at bat."
Saturday could have been a sweep for either team, but it controversially ended in a split. Ohio State won the first game 2-1 with Cappellano called out to end the game in the bottom of the seventh after he slid into first base on a grounder to shortstop. The entire Iowa bench and coaching staff ran onto the field in protest as they felt even Cappellano's stomach was already touching the bag by the time the Buckeye first baseman received the ball. If he had been called safe, the tying run would have scored for Iowa while two runners would have still been on base to win the game. However, until the late flourish, it seemed as if Ohio State had played the better game.
The Buckeyes also seemed in control in the second game of the doubleheader as they took a 4-1 lead into the bottom of the fifth inning. Iowa had their middle of the order up, and it seemed as if that could be their last legitimate chance to get back into the game. With two outs, the Hawks did get back into the game as 3B Ian Mattiace and Jansen got on base and Carlson tied the game with a three-run home run. The momentum of the game completely changed on his swing, and the Hawks won 5-4 thanks to a sacrifice fly by Jansen and gutsy relief pitching by freshman Jeff Gilmore. Gilmore got the win after pitching a perfect inning and a third. "Jeff is starting to move into that role," commented Broghamer. "He has a good fastball and a good mentality for closing. He is still also working hard in practice to be in the mix for playing time as a position player next season."
After getting momentum and playing two emotional games on Saturday, the Hawkeyes gave it all away on Sunday in an 11-1 loss. Coach Broghamer was at a loss to explain why it happened, but OSU pounded out sixteen hits and held Iowa to four. Buckeye starting pitcher Nate Smith deserves much of the credit as he ran his record to 4-0 after striking out sixteen Hawkeye batters. Ohio State is now 21-8-1 overall and their 9-3 league record leads the Big Ten.
In recent weeks, the Hawks have struggled in league play but have found success in non-conference action. The Illinois State game Bloomington, Illinois was supposed to be a revenge game for an earlier 14-6 Iowa loss to Illinois State in Iowa City, but the Hawks lost to the Red Birds once again, 7-4. Freshman Hawk starter Tim Gudex got off to a rough beginning as he gave up six hits, two walks, and four runs in one and two-thirds innings. The Iowa Offense got Gudex off the hook by tying the game at 4-4, but the bullpen could not keep Illinois State at bay. Nick Jenson and Dyson Miguel were effective out of the bullpen as neither permitted a base runner. Carlson and C Cliff Bruckner both had two hits, and Carlson drove in all four Hawkeye runs.
As has been the case for most of the season, Mattiace, Jansen, and Carlson lead the Iowa Offense. Mattiace is hitting .357 with 5 HRs, 25 RBIs, and 11 SBs. Jansen is leading the team in hitting at .376, and has 4 HRs and 19 RBIs. Carlson struggled early in the season but is now hitting .295 with 6 HRs and 27 RBIs. He leads the team in both homeruns and runs batted in. John Paul Cappellano had been swinging a hot bat, but is physically banged up and out of the lineup.
The second base position is one of the spots that Coach Broghamer is looking for more consistency from. Andy Cox has hit well most of the year, but has been inconsistent in the field at times. Chris Growth has struggled with the bat, but played well in the field this last weekend when Cox banged up his knee in the series opener against Ohio State. "Growth came in and handled himself defensively," said Broghamer, "and he certainly is capable of handling the bat. He just hasn't put it all together yet. We're going to work on some things and hopefully one of those guys can get hot."
The Hawks have played two of the leaders in the Big Ten in recent weeks, but it doesn't get any easier this weekend as they travel to Purdue. Although the Boilermakers do not have the same offensive firepower that Indiana and Ohio State have, they are tied for second place with Indiana in the league standing at 8-4. Adam Fazio and Nick McIntyre are the leading hitters with .346 and .330 batting averages respectively. They also comprise two of the three hitters on the team that have over twenty runs batted in. Very few of the hitters have outstanding individual numbers, but several have driven in double digit RBIs. The most impressive offensive statistic is that the Boilermakers have stolen 64 bases.
Purdue does not have a great team ERA, but two starters have impressive numbers. Mitch Pruemer is 5-1 with a 3.19 ERA in 53.2 innings of work. Although Chadd Blasko is only 4-3, he has a 2.76 ERA and 55 strikeouts in 58.2 innings. Iowa does not have a starting pitcher that can match those statistics.
Despite Iowa's poor start, it is still a little early to write the season off. This weekend is the midpoint of the conference season. However, if the team loses three of four games or worse, the rest of the Big Ten might erase Iowa from the contender list.