Baseball Nine Takes on Northwestern

The Iowa Hawkeyes look to continue their climb up the Big Ten standings this weekend as they host Northwestern. The Hawks have won seven of their last eight games, and followed up their Big Ten road series victory against Purdue two weeks ago by winning a home series against Michigan State last weekend. At 19-20 overall and 8-11 in Big Ten play, the team has a realistic chance of being able to play its way into the Big Ten Tournament.

Last Tuesday saw Iowa defeat Western Illinois in a dominating 14-1 performance that was shortened to seven innings due to the score. Freshman P Jeff Maitland received more than enough offensive support, and the win was the first of his young Hawkeye career. As usual, 3B Ian Mattiace, 1B Brad Carlson, and LF Andy Jensen were the hitting stars, but CF Kyle Thousand also continued a torrid stretch that resulted in him winning Big Ten Player of the Week honors. Kyle was 2-3 in the game with a homerun, a triple, and 3 RBIs, while the other three hitters combined for 5 hits and 5 RBIs.

The Hawks took on instate rival Northern Iowa the next day in Waterloo, and Iowa snapped a two-game losing streak in the series by pulling out a 6-4 win. Several pitchers logged short outings for the victorious Hawkeyes, but P Chris Maliszewski was credited with the win. Mattiace did a good job, once again, from his leadoff position, but in this contest it was the bottom of the Iowa lineup that was the difference. The bottom five hitters in the lineup combined for 10 hits. RF Brian Bucklin led the way in a rare start with 3 hits, and Thousand had 2 HRs and 3 RBIs.

The momentum reached its pinnacle as the Hawks trounced Michigan State on Friday, 14-3. Thousand was 2-5 with a triple and 4 RBIs, while Mattiace was 3-6 with a homerun and a RBI. Carlson knocked in 3 RBIs with his team-leading ninth homerun. After getting little support in several previous starts, P Reed Pawelk went seven innings to get the win. He is now 3-4 on the season. "Kyle Thousand had a great week," said Coach Scott Broghamer. "It was also great to see that the bottom of the order picked us up at times. Hopefully that will be much more constant down the stretch."

Unfortunately Mother Nature slowed the team momentum, as the Saturday doubleheader was rained out. The teams did play a doubleheader on Sunday, but never played the scheduled fourth game of the series. The Hawks split the doubleheader on Sunday, winning game one, 4-3, while losing game two, 3-0. Mattiace had two hits and was in the middle of the action in game one, but Thousand was the difference. Kyle had two hits and drove in two RBIs that were the tying and go ahead runs. Matt Hasz pitched a quality game to get the win, and Nick Jensen threw two scoreless innings for his team leading fifth save.

In the second game, P Cory Hollenhorst, once again, was effective in a starting role, but received no offensive support. Iowa managed only three hits and had five base runners total. Northern Iowa was also holding the Hawk Offense at bay this Wednesday as play was suspended due to rain. The Panthers were leading 4-1 in the top of the sixth. Maliszewski was on the mound again for the Hawks, and only gave an unearned run in the first five innings of work. "We made some mistakes behind Chris, and it definitely was not his fault," said Coach Broghamer. "He did a great job against Purdue, and he did a good job again last night. With the injury situation bumping everyone up and the way Chris has pitched, he is the guy we are going to look to more and more."

Both teams publicly said that they want to finish the game, but there are only a couple of weeks left in the regular season. Next week the Hawks take on UW-Milwaukee in a doubleheader during the middle of the week. The following week both the Panthers and Hawks have academic finals during the week and neither school wants to schedule or make up games during finals week. If the game is not completed, the score will revert back to 1-1 and end in a tie since Northern Iowa scored the three go ahead runs in the top of the sixth. Iowa was never able to bat in the bottom of the inning, so the score reverts back to the score after the previously completed inning.

The pitching staff has done very well during this stretch of success, and they are going to have to keep it up against the Wildcats. Northwestern is 17-21 on the season with an 8-10 conference record, but much like Iowa, they have gotten hot lately. Two weeks ago they took three out of four games from Penn State and last week they won the series against a strong Illinois team by taking two out of three. The Wildcats do not have a group of imposing hitters, but they do have more balance and depth than Iowa in their hitting lineup. They have four guys with 20 or more RBIs, and the team batting average is .275. Iowa not only has four guys with 20 or more RBIs, but two of them have more than 30. However, the overall team batting average for the Hawks is only .265. Mattiace leads the team with a .375 average, and has 13 doubles, 6 homeruns, and 30 RBIs. Carlson has seen his average drop to .291, but has 12 doubles, 9 homeruns, and 34 RBIs. The core of the Northwestern team seems to be their pitchers. No individual has great statistics, but the pitchers keep the Wildcats in games and make the team competitive even when they were struggling early in the year. "Pitching is their strength," said Broghamer. "They throw some guys at you that throw strikes, change speeds, and locate. I think that has always been a typical trademark for Northwestern. If you look at their scores, they have been in almost every ballgame that they played in. It should be another typically competitive Big Ten weekend."

Only two games in the win column separate second place Minnesota and ninth place Michigan. Iowa is currently eighth in the league with twelve conference games left. Realistically, only first place Ohio State should be somewhat comfortable with its position, as they are 13-6 in league action. It remains to be seen, because of injury, who will start on the mound for Iowa this weekend after Pawelk, Hollenhorst, and Hasz, but the Hawks need to step up and win the series this weekend since traditionally tough opponents in Minnesota and Illinois are on the horizon. "Our seniors are excited at this point in the year to be in this position to make a move in the standings," commented Broghamer. "We have a good chance of continuing to improve our position, but we need to be playing at a high level."

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