Hawkeyes need to keep winning to host NCAA regional

Chad Leistikow
The University of Iowa could probably squeeze 3,100 to 3,200 fans into Duane Banks Field if it hosts an NCAA regional. It recently installed temporary bleachers to increase capacity.

IOWA CITY, Ia. – Is 40 (wins) the magic number for the Iowa baseball team to host an NCAA regional for the first time in school history?

Nobody knows yet for sure, but that's the consensus among the 15th-ranked Hawkeyes, who enter this week's Big Ten Conference Tournament in Minneapolis with 38 wins and 14 losses.

"I think we need to win a couple games, I do," Iowa coach Rick Heller said. "What they have done this year is very impressive and it's a great body of work — it's as consistent with anybody in the country, week in and week out. But on the other side, there are a lot of good teams out there and a lot of teams that have done similar things to us."

The NCAA will announce the 16 regional host sites sometime Sunday night. The second-seeded Hawkeyes hope they're still playing at Target Field earlier that day in the 1 p.m. Big Ten championship game. If they are, that means they'll have won three times in four days to get to 41 wins.

The Hawkeyes are certain to make their first NCAA regional appearance since 1990 and only the fourth in school history. D1baseball.com releases projected pairings each Wednesday, and last week it had Iowa City pegged as a host site. But that was before the Hawkeyes went to 12th-place Rutgers and lost their first Big Ten series of the season, dropping two of three games.

"I feel like we've got to win 2-3 games to get back into (hosting a regional at Duane Banks Field)," Iowa leadoff man Eric Toole said. "The Rutgers series kind of hurt us a little bit. If we could host a regional, that'd be awesome. If not, we're still making regionals."

Toole said the Hawkeyes were pressing too much at Rutgers. It was a minor hiccup in what's been, as Heller said, a remarkably consistent season. Iowa's longest losing streak is two games.

Advancing at the Big Ten Tournament will be no cakewalk. Iowa's RPI, according to D1baseball, is No. 30 nationally. Its first-round opponent, seventh-seeded Ohio State (35-18), is No. 31.

"I know the committee is going to look at who's hot at the end of the season, and that's always a big factor," Heller said. "There's no question we're good enough, we've won enough. It's just, are we going to win enough here at the end to warrant getting that regional?"