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Ben Norman’s first two collegiate seasons were as puzzling as ever.

After a freshman all-American campaign as Iowa’s starting center fielder, Norman slammed hard into a sophomore wall. His batting average last season rested below the Mendoza Line.

It’s a new year, though, and Norman is hoping to rekindle that first-year spark as a junior. He’s off to a good start, going 3-for-4 with four RBIs in Saturday’s 10-1 win over Pittsburgh at the Diamond 9 Sunshine State Classic Series in Kissimmee, Florida.

Norman finished a triple shy of the cycle while scoring three runs. His two-run second-inning homer got Iowa rolling and the Hawkeyes (1-1) didn’t let up. Iowa had a 7-0 lead in the sixth before tacking on three late runs.

Norman had only one three-hit game in all of 2018 as he sputtered to a .189 batting average in 47 games (29 starts). He didn’t have a single homer. Saturday’s four RBIs equaled a third of his 2018 total.

But Norman looks refreshed in 2019. He had plenty of help, too.

Newcomer Tanner Padgett finished with three hits. Mitchell Boe was on base four times, and third baseman Matthew Sosa drove in three as well.

“We were really difficult to pitch to today,” Iowa associate head coach Marty Sutherland said on the postgame radio broadcast, “and that’s a credit to our guys going up there with a really good plan.”    

The offensive outburst was more than enough cushion for Jack Dreyer, who dominated in his season debut. The sophomore southpaw punched out 10 batters in 5 1/3 scoreless innings. Pittsburgh (1-1) mustered two hits.

Iowa can exit Florida with a series win in Sunday’s rubber match. The Hawkeyes and right-hander Grant Judkins will face Marshall at 9:30 a.m. (CT).

Dargan Southard covers Iowa and UNI athletics, recruiting and preps for the Des Moines Register, HawkCentral.com and the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Email him at msouthard@gannett.com or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.

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