Iowa (23-26-1 overall, 12-15 in the Big Ten) is currently in seventh place after splitting four games with first place Minnesota this weekend. Even though they are not currently in the top six, the Hawks could move up this weekend by splitting the four games with the Illini. However, if the Hawks want to ensure that they make the tournament, they need to win three games or sweep their rivals from across the Mississippi River. Ohio State and Minnesota are playing in Columbus to decide who wins the regular season title, but every other series around the league will play a major role in deciding if Iowa's season ends this Sunday.
All four games last weekend against Minnesota were very competitive. The Hawks drew first blood on the scoreboard in the game on Friday, but had to battle to pull out a 5-3 win. 1B Brad Carlson led the way as his first inning homerun was one of his three hits. RF John Paul Cappellano had three hits, while CF Kyle Thousand had two hits. Even though the offense got the team off to a good start, the pitchers were the difference in the game. Minnesota native Reed Pawelk won his fourth game of the year by holding the Gophers to three runs over eight innings. It wasn't always smooth for Reed, but he battled well. "I think there is always a little more impetus when you battle against your home state," said Head Coach Scott Broghamer. "I thought he held his composure and changed speeds very well. He is getting better at changing speeds every start."
Reliever Dyson Miguel also battled, as he came in for the ninth to pick up his fourth save of the season even though two Hawkeye errors were made behind him. Dyson left the bases loaded to end the game and overcame a tight strike zone from the umpire. "Dyson made great pitches and did the job putting out the fires this weekend," said Coach Broghamer. "His maturity as a senior is very apparent." The win prevented Gopher Head Coach John Anderson from becoming the all-time leader in coaching wins in Minnesota Baseball history.
The Hawks also jumped out to a 2-0 lead in miserable conditions on Saturday, but Anderson was able to break the Minnesota record as the Gophers won 5-2. For a time Iowa starter Matt Hasz was able to pitch effectively, but three walks and poor pitch counts cost him in the end. 3B Ian Mattiace and LF Andy Jansen both drove in a run in the third inning, but the Iowa Offense did nothing in the cold and rainy conditions after that. The second game of the Saturday doubleheader was postponed until Sunday.
The weather on Sunday was much better, and so was the Iowa Offense. Although they lost the first game 8-5 and had little production from several hitters, Carlson and Jansen had a very good game. Carlson hit his twelfth and thirteenth homeruns of the season, and knocked in four runs. His second homerun of the game was crushed. Jansen made sure that Carlson would not hit solo homeruns, as he was 4-4 batting in front of Carlson. Starting pitcher Cory Hollenhorst was not able to take advantage as he had perhaps his worst outing of the season. Cory went the distance, but gave up eight earned runs on seven hits and four walks.
After watching the heroics of Jansen and Carlson go for naught, it seemed as if the Gophers were going to sweep the Sunday doubleheader after jumping out to the lead in the second game. Although the starting pitching struggled once again, the bottom part of the Iowa lineup came through as the Hawks pounded out 17 hits in a 12-6 win. Iowa scored four runs in the second, fourth, and sixth innings, and the four through nine spots in the order combined for 16 hits. 2B Chris Groth had three hits and drove in three runs, while Cappellano, Thousand, and C Brad Husz also had three hits. Cappellano drove in two runs, and SS Jeff Gremley had two hits and three RBIs. "The bottom half of the order," said Coach Broghamer, "especially Groth and Gremley, was just huge." Although starting pitcher Chris Maliszewski struggled for the first time in quite awhile, Dyson Miguel picked him up by only giving up one run over four and one-third innings.
Besides snapping a long losing streak to Minnesota and keeping themselves in the Big Ten race, the Iowa coaching staff has to be pleased with the way Brad Husz played in the finale. Not only did he record three hits in his first start in quite some time, but they were all of a different variety and helped him to break out of a long hitting slump. Among the hits was his seventh double of the season and a bunt single. Although he has struggled offensively this season, Husz is one of the best throwing catchers in the conference. He demonstrated that again this weekend as he threw out two runners, one of which came in a key situation after Miguel gave up a leadoff walk in the fourth inning. "It was great to see Brad swinging the bat well," said Broghamer. "Cliff Bruckner was just raking at times this season when Brad wasn't playing. Brad hit a skid at the plate for awhile, but he seems to be coming out of it. It is good to have some competition at positions, and as usual, it needs to be settled on the field. We are going to play the guys that can get the job done."
Illinois has a solid hitting lineup that features six batters with 20 or more RBIs, but pitcher Andy Dickinson is their main weapon. The lefthander is 10-2 with a 3.01 ERA this season, and the lefthander has been a force in the conference for the last couple of seasons. He will start the Friday game opposite Reed Pawelk. His style is like that of Atlanta Braves star pitcher Tom Glavine, who keeps the ball out away from hitters, changes speeds, and pitches just enough inside to keep hitters honest. "Dickinson has been about as good as we have had in this league for the last three years," said Broghamer. "He is a very good pitcher."
The Illini have several familiar faces back in their lineup this season, but true freshman Drew Davidson is leading the team in batting average at .359 and homeruns with nine. Drew is one of a few West Des Moines Dowling players from the 1999 and 2001 4A state champions that chose to spurn an offer from the instate Hawkeyes. Drew is the only one that chose to play against Iowa in the Big Ten Conference or for a rival school like Illinois.
Although Illinois is currently in third place and has a chance at reaching second, this is also an important series for them as they can play themselves out of the Big Ten tourney with a poor performance. Only three games separate Illinois from last place Michigan, so every game around the Big Ten has significance. For Iowa, this is the last chance for the seniors like Carlson, Jansen, Mattiace, Miguel, and Cappellano to make the tourney. The games are in Iowa City, it is the last home series for the seniors, and the opponent is Illinois. What more does the team need for motivation?