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Rick Heller on third paid assistant not passing: Disappointing for all baseball people Dargan Southard, msouthard@gannett.com

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From legit at-large hopes to backing into the conference tournament, Iowa’s tailspin has been swift and hard the last two weekends.

The Hawkeyes’ latest sputter came Saturday, as Iowa suffered its fifth straight loss in getting swept at Maryland. The 10-8 defeat ends a regular season that was once filled with promise and optimism. Now, the Hawkeyes are just trying to survive.

Iowa (30-22, 12-12 Big Ten Conference) will be in next week’s Big Ten Tournament —but barely. Duds the previous two series have landed Iowa the No. 8 seed in Omaha, where it’ll face conference champion Indiana (36-19, 17-7) at 5 p.m. Wednesday.

The Hawkeyes finished tied with Ohio State and Maryland for the final three tournament spots. Since all three teams played each other during this year, the tiebreaker used is the teams' head-to-head records against each other.

Maryland lost two of three against Ohio State and swept the Hawkeyes to go 4-2. The Buckeyes dropped two of three against Iowa to go 3-3. Iowa’s recent futility makes it 2-4 against Maryland and Ohio State — and thus last in the three-team tiebreaker.

Regardless, Iowa must find some life if it wants to stick around. The Hawkeyes’ starting pitching was horrendous in College Park, surrendering 15 hits and 15 runs (12 earned) over 11 1/3 innings. No starter made it past five.

It negated Iowa's offensive outburst that delivered 18 runs in three games. Shortstop Tanner Wetrich homered twice and drove in seven Saturday — but spotty mound work all day sent the Hawkeyes home dejected.

It’s not going to get any easier in Omaha. Indiana swept Iowa to start Big Ten play and the Hoosiers haven't stopped rolling. A series win last weekend at Michigan, coupled with two wins over Rutgers this weekend, gave Indiana the regular-season title in Jeff Mercer’s first year.

There’s no need for RPI checks or resume assessments anymore. Iowa’s postseason fate hinges on winning its second Big Ten Tournament in three years. It’ll limp to Omaha with little evidence of a magical surge ahead.

The Hawkeyes can only blame themselves for this.

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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