Rick Heller understands the physics of a college baseball tournament.
That’s why the Iowa coach isn’t complaining that his team is playing the opening game of the Big Ten tournament on Wednesday.
The Hawkeyes will have to rise early, because they have a 9 a.m. game against Penn State.
Iowa is the third seed, and the Hawkeyes’ side of the bracket has reasonable game times throughout the tournament.
The later in the day you have to play, the better chance there is for delays and an alteration of the schedule that can affect a game plan.
To the players, the early start might not matter. But Heller knows the realities.
“Once they get in there, they’re going to play,” he said after Saturday’s 2-1 win over Indiana in the regular-season finale. “It’s not going to matter. It’s just one of those things that’s a little more convenient for us to organize your day. You’re not sitting around, and then possibly not playing after you’ve warmed up because of a couple of games getting pushed back, and then getting ready to play at 11:30 or 11:45 (p.m.), time limits come into play if you get any rain at all…”
The Hawkeyes (33-17 overall, 17-7 Big Ten) finished in a tie for second in conference play. The longer they stay in Omaha for the conference tournament, the better their chances for picking up an NCAA tournament bid.
Iowa closed the season with a sweep of Indiana, carrying momentum into the postseason.
“I like the toughness we’re showing,” Heller said. “We’re still dealing with injuries, not being able to run some guys out there that we would like to. … We still like to find a way to get it done. That’s what this team has had to do all season. We’ve probably only had one stretch (since back-to-back losses to Cal-Irvine on March 11-12) where we’ve lost more than one game in a row (back-to-back losses to Illinois on April 9-10). That’s pretty good, that’s a pretty good stretch.”
Key players to watch
Adam Mazur was named the Big Ten’s pitcher of the year and was a first-team All-Big Ten pick after going 7-2 with a 3.05 ERA in 14 regular-season starts. The right-hander struck out 90 batters in 88 2/3 innings. Mazur went 5-1 with a 2.59 ERA in eight Big Ten starts.
Keaton Anthony was the Big Ten’s freshman of the year. The outfielder was a second-team All-Big Ten selection after hitting .360 with 20 doubles, 14 home runs, 53 runs batted in and 43 runs scored during the regular season. Ten of Anthony’s home runs came in Big Ten games.
First baseman Peyton Williams was a first-team All-Big Ten pick after hitting .356 with 38 RBIs, 51 runs scored and 31 extra base hits.
Reliever Ben Beutel was a second-team all-conference selection, going 3-0 with a 1.33 ERA and four saves in a team-high 26 appearances. Beutel hasn’t allowed a run in 22 of his 26 appearances.
Sophomore Kyle Huckstorf is coming off a big weekend against the Hoosiers, in which he had three home runs and 12 RBIs in the Hawkeyes’ 30-16 win in the series opener. He was named the Big Ten’s co-player of the week.
The (simple) keys to the tournament
• Win the opener. The last thing you want to do is fall into the elimination bracket early. At that point, you’re chasing the bracket, and that’s not good.
And there’s this — two wins to start the tournament gets you a Friday off, which saves on your pitching.
• Pitching, pitching and more pitching. The Hawkeyes need a big start from Mazur to open the tournament — he gave up nine runs in two innings in his last start against Indiana.
But they’ll also need long outings from their other starters — Dylan Nedved had six shutout innings in his Friday start against Indiana and Ty Langenberg worked his way through five scoreless innings on Saturday. Those kind of starts can be big in a tournament setting, to save on the bullpen.
• Stack the wins. The Hawkeyes have an NCAA tournament bid on the line this weekend. A quick exit dooms their hopes. The longer they stay around, the better the resumé looks.