If the first nine games of the season for the Iowa baseball team left more to be desired, than Tuesday's game proved to be worthwhile.
Iowa scored 28 runs on 16 hits in a 28-0 win over Northwestern College in the home opener at Duane Banks Field in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes (4-6) recorded five runs in the first inning, nine in the second, two in the third, eight in the fourth and four in the sixth. NAIA-level Northwestern (4-5) loaded the bases in the third and seventh innings, but failed to score. The 28 runs are the second most in a single game in school history.
"Everything went perfect today, it couldn't have been a better day," Iowa coach Rick Heller said. "It started with the (72-degree) temperature and sun shining. We needed a day at home and to have one this early in March was great for us. Our guys came out with a business-like attitude. I thought we had quality at-bats up and down the lineup."
Heller's club entered the game at 3-6, a stark contrast to a pair of 8-1 starts after the first nine contests each of the last two seasons.
The early portion of the 2016 campaign shouldn't be too discouraging for the Hawkeyes, however.
Three of those losses were to Dallas Baptist (8-3), the Missouri Valley Conference favorite and an NCAA Tournament team in 2015. Two defeats were to Southern Illinois (7-4) and one to Indiana State (7-5). The schedule is much more difficult this spring than it was in 2015 and 2014 — the first two years under Heller.
Plus, two-way player Tyler Peyton has been hobbled by injury. The senior pitcher and first baseman missed a start last weekend due to forearm tightness and Heller indicated the setback might be impacting Peyton offensively, too. Peyton is hitting at just a .194 clip. Still, before Tuesday, Iowa was only minus-eight in run differential.
"We didn't get off to a good start, but we knew that was a risk with the competition we were playing," Heller said. "Then with Tyler Peyton having to come out of the game in the third inning in his second start with his arm bothering him — that isn't good for us."
Iowa is hopeful Tuesday's performance will provide a jolt moving forward. How can 28 runs not?
Austin Guzzo paced the Hawkeyes, going 3-for-5 with a double, two walks, five RBIs, and five runs scored. Other highlights include two-hit games from Joel Booker, Nick Roscetti, Luke Farley, Daniel Aaron Moriel, Corbin Woods, Eric Schenck-Joblinske, and Jimmy Frankos. Farley and Zach Daniels each added four RBI and Moriel posted three RBI.
"The first nine games didn’t go how we wanted it to, but I think today helped turn that around and helped us get our swag back," Roscetti said. "Hopefully we can continue from here."
"We came out today knowing we had to flip our season around," Guzzo added. "Obviously not the greatest competition, but don’t give them hope that they can beat us and we feel like we proved that. We all came out and stuck with our plan at the plate, on the mound, and defensively."
Now, Iowa moves on to its spring break trip. The Hawkeyes will play four games at a tournament in Emerson, Ga., this weekend before a three-game series at No. 21 Missouri State March 18-20.
Those seven games are a significant chance for Iowa to pick up victories before returning home, where Big Ten competition is on the horizon with three games against Maryland March 25-27 in Iowa City.
"It comes down to between the ears," Guzzo said. "We have to know we’re better offensively than the guy on the mound. You need to go up there and feel like you’ll beat him every time. If we have that approach throughout spring break, we’ll be in good shape. We’re getting there. We don’t want this. We want to be in the win column as much as possible."
Reach Matt Cozzi at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @matt_cozzi.