After Big Ten elimination, can Hawkeyes get their groove back?
MINNEAPOLIS – Even though Iowa experienced a humbling exit Friday at the Big Ten Conference baseball tournament, it knows the season isn't over.
The Hawkeyes will play at least two more games — their most important yet — late next week because of this spring's body of work.
But the question that lies ahead at Iowa's fourth-ever appearance in an NCAA regional isn't about cosmetics. It's about what's inside.
How's the psyche? How do the Hawkeyes recover the magic that led the charge to a 39-16 record?
"Sometimes when you have a team that overachieves like that day in and day out … scraps and fights, comeback wins and all those things," coach Rick Heller said after his second-seeded Hawkeyes were routed by No. 6 seed Indiana, 10-2. "At some point, sometimes you do hit a wall and sometimes you just need a break. And this will be perfect timing for that."
Nine days earlier, Iowa was discussed as being one of 16 national regional hosts for the NCAA's ultimate double-elimination playoffs. But four losses in the last six games — two to a below-150 RPI team in Rutgers, and two in a matter of 24 hours here — took hosting out of the conversation and put confidence-building into it.
Iowa figures be a No. 2 or No. 3 seed in its four-team regional when pairings are announced at 11 a.m. Monday on ESPNU.
"This does hurt, these last couple weeks. It's been a little bit different than it was all year," fifth-year senior Jake Mangler said. "We need to find our way back to where we were."
To be fair, Iowa in the last two days faced teams that were playing for their NCAA regional lives — first Michigan, which badgered Iowa's pitching staff in an 8-5 Thursday win, then the streaking Hoosiers (34-21), who rolled to their eighth victory in nine games.
"Today," Heller led off his postgame news conference saying, "is probably more about how well Indiana played than anything we did."
So, now the Hawkeyes have a week between games to get things corrected.
All-Big Ten starting pitchers Blake Hickman (Thursday) and Calvin Mathews (Friday) combined to last only 41/3 innings and allowed 10 runs.
"I just kind of tip my hat to Indiana," said Mathews, whose final pitch was a third-inning fastball to Indiana freshman Logan Sowers that ended up in the second deck in left field for a grand slam and 7-0 Hoosiers lead. "I felt like I was hitting both sides of the plate."
Leadoff man Eric Toole, the ultimate table-setter with more than 200 career singles and 70 stolen bases, went 1-for-12 for the week.
Iowa was outhit 35-19 in three games. It took a dramatic walk-off home run by Nick Day in the tournament opener against Ohio State to provide the Hawkeyes' lone win.
"We need a little bit more fight out of everybody, I think, in the lineup," said Mangler, who went 2-for-4 Friday.
So, what's next?
The great baseball Iowa played in February, March, April and most of May turned to average baseball this week.
"There's a lot of things I saw us doing in this tournament that we haven't done all year," Heller said. "Some little silly things, basic baseball things that we'll go back and start from square one and run our practices like we would in a preseason setting … and get guys feeling good about themselves."
First baseman Tyler Peyton, who might be Iowa's Game 1 starter when the NCAA regionals begin Friday (Heller wasn't sure), said the team needs "to let the loss go and think about where we're going to be next week."
Monday, Iowa can bask in the glory of a terrific season. The key for Heller is to find a week's worth of positive feelings, with a side order of fundamentals.
In addition to rest, Heller said he'd look for fun, team-building activities and more batting-cage time than the players got in an eight-team, one-park tournament setting.
"As a coach that's going to be coaching a team that's never been to a regional, you don't know how they're going to take it," Heller said. "I'm hoping they're going to go out and just play as hard as they possibly can."
SCORING SUMMARY: INDIANA 10, IOWA 2
Indiana 2nd: Scott Donley strikes out looking. Logan Sowers pops out to 1B. Craig Dedelow singles to CF. Will Nolden singles to RF, Dedelow to second. Austin Cangelosi triples to deep RF, Dedelow and Nolden score, Cangelosi scores on 2B Jake Mangler's throwing error. Brian Wilhite strikes out looking. Indiana 3, Iowa 0.
Indiana 3rd: Casey Rodrigue triples to deep RF. Nick Ramos grounds out to 1B. Brad Hartong walks. Donley reaches on catcher's interference, Hartong to second. Sowers homers to deep LF, Rodrigue, Hartong and Donley score. Luke Vandermaten relieves Calvin Mathews. Dedelow grounds out to SS. Nolden fouls out to 3B. Indiana 7, Iowa 0.
Indiana 4th: Cangelosi grounds out to 1B. Wilhite singles to LF. Rodrigue doubles to LF, Wilhite to third. Ramos singles to RF, Wilhite and Rodrigue score. Hartong lines out to LF. Donley grounds out to 1B. Indiana 9, Iowa 0.
Iowa 6th: Nick Day singles to LF. Eric Toole reaches on fielder's choice, Day out at second. Jake Mangler singles to LF, Toole to second. Tyler Peyton doubles down RF line, Toole and Mangler score. Peyton to third on wild pitch. Kris Goodman strikes out looking. Dan Potempa grounds out to 3B. Indiana 9, Iowa 2.
Indiana 6th: Rodrigue flies out to RF. Ramos strikes out swinging. Hartong singles to RF. Hartong to second on passed ball. Donley singles to RF, Hartong scores. Sowers flies out to LF. Indiana 10, Iowa 2.