IOWA CITY, Ia. — The Iowa baseball team made an impression in its Big Ten Conference opener.
Easily. And in commanding fashion.
Thanks to solid two-out hitting and a complete game from starting pitcher C.J. Eldred, Iowa (8-11, 1-0 Big Ten) cruised to an 8-1 win over Maryland (10-11, 0-1) Friday in both teams' first Big Ten game at Duane Banks Field in Iowa City.
"Up and down the lineup, our guys were really dialed in today," Iowa coach Rick Heller said. "They were focused and confident."
The Hawkeyes scored six runs with two outs, including four in the second inning. The Terrapins tallied their lone run in the top of the first, then went silent.
Maryland sent preseason All-American Mike Shawaryn to the mound, but the right-hander was chased after five innings. Shawaryn — ranked the No. 41 prospect by Baseball America after posting a 13-2 record with a 1.71 ERA in 2015 — allowed a season-high eight hits, yielding five runs. He walked one and struck out eight, but the damage was done as he entered with a 2.97 ERA and exited with a 4.46.
Right fielder Robert Neustrom tripled in two runs to begin the scoring in the second inning. One batter later, center fielder Joel Booker hit a line-drive home run over the left-field wall to cap the offensive barrage in the inning.
Neustrom and Booker each finished 2-for-5, while first baseman Tyler Peyton went 2-for-5 with three runs scored. Catcher Jimmy Frankos and third baseman Mason McCoy also recorded multi-hit games. Designated hitter Austin Guzzo posted a 3-for-4 line with two RBI.
"It’s a sigh of relief, especially facing an All-American who we hit pretty well," Booker said. "We've started off games slowly, but we went out there and jumped on him today. That’s approach and great hitting philosophy, getting your best swing off. Looking for your pitch and taking advantage when you get it."
Eldred — son of former Iowa pitcher Cal Eldred, who played 14 years in the major leagues — threw a complete game six-hitter, walking two and striking out nine. Prior to this season, the sophomore last pitched in 2013 as a high school hurler up the road at Mount Vernon. Eldred initially went to Indiana and redshirted his freshman campaign. The right-hander then transferred to Iowa and sat out all of last year due to transfer regulations.
It's quite the turnaround for Eldred, who cemented his position as the No. 1 starter with Friday's performance. Facing trouble in the second, third and fifth frames, Eldred induced double-play groundouts in all three instances to end the Terrapins' rallies.
"Early on, I established my fastball," Eldred said. "That helps everything else fall along. We want to get ahead of as many hitters as possible. It’s a lot easier to pitch when you’re ahead — 0-1, 0-2, 1-2 in the count. It keeps hitters on their toes and you can pretty much throw whatever you want.
"That’s part of my game plan. A guy gets on first, I’m going to try to get it on the ground. I have a little sink on my fastball and if I stay knee-high or lower, they’re not going to get it up in the air. Trust the infield behind me and go pitch."
Losers of five of their previous seven games, the Hawkeyes won on a walk-off earlier this week over Bradley. Now, a decisive victory to open Big Ten play. This could be what boosts Iowa for the rest of the spring, or at least the rest of the weekend with two more games against Maryland on Saturday and Sunday.
Heller and Co. put together a formidable nonconference schedule, including three games each with Missouri State and Dallas Baptist, both NCAA Tournament clubs in 2015. That type of experience early on could pay dividends as the Hawkeyes maneuver through their conference slate.
"I don’t know if this was a statement (game), but I felt like we’ve started to get closer the last five or six games, maybe even before that," Heller said. "Our at-bats were getting better each time, we were playing teams that were good and also hot, so that wasn’t a great combination. But we weren’t playing bad baseball. ... If you’re mentally tough enough to not let the losses beat you up, it really helps you when you get into conference play. I think you saw the result of that today."