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Iowa baseball must take winning weekend and move on, despite sour ending to Florida trip

Dargan Southard
Hawk Central

Iowa's front-loaded schedule didn't offer time to revel or dwell, no matter how the Hawkeyes' opening weekend went.

Doesn't mean there won't be some lingering sting, after what was nearly an imperfectly perfect opening in the Florida sun.

Iowa emerged with two wins to start the Snowbird Classic, but Sunday's 10-8 late-inning loss to Pittsburgh negatively shifted the optics just a bit. The Panthers' five-run eighth saw Iowa surrender five consecutive two-out baserunners.

Closer Grant Leonard entered for a four-out save, already with one uneventful appearance under his belt from Friday night. He exited with an ERA at 27.00.

Iowa players huddle up during Hawkeye baseball media day, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020, at the University of Iowa Indoor Practice Facility in Iowa City, Iowa.

Associate head coach Marty Sutherland didn't downplay things on the postgame wrap-up, emphasizing that this kind of loss could — and hopefully doesn't — loom large later on. After landing on the wrong side of the bubble in back-to-back years, Iowa knows as well as anyone the importance of every game at any point in the season.

Flip the order of events any which way, though, and the Hawkeyes (2-1) come out with a gritty weekend rally after early struggles. So Friday's 3-1 win over Kent State and Saturday's 7-2 victory against St. Joseph's shouldn't be overlooked. A good Grant Judkins start followed a great Jack Dreyer return  — and Iowa's offense made up the difference in between.

Ben Norman delivered a crucial showing as the Hawkeyes' new leadoff man, reaching base seven times with six hits and a walk. Four of those knocks buoyed Iowa to a winning weekend on the Atlanta Braves' crisp, new spring training field.

Elsewhere in the lineup, second baseman Izaya Fullard came around in the finale with a three-run homer and two runs scored after an 0-for-6 start. Freshman Peyton Williams had some nice moments. Dylan Nedved looks to have the early grasp on Iowa's third-base battle.

And really, although it crumbled Sunday, Iowa's bullpen had plenty of effective moments. Relievers covered four innings Friday and another four Saturday, combining to yield just four hits and an unearned run. Assumption product Trenton Wallace looked particularly sharp, as did Dowling Catholic alum Ben Probst. Ben Beutel struggled and Trace Hoffman survived in their second appearances of the weekend.

Iowa can quickly erase that sour taste with solid showings the next two weekends, beginning next Friday at San Diego State as part of the Tony Gwynn Legacy Tournament.

Games against No. 22 Arizona and San Diego follow, then it's off to Minneapolis for a ranked trio of ACC foes. North Carolina State, North Carolina, Duke and the Wildcats went a combined 11-1 to start 2020.

Perhaps that's a good thing, Iowa not having time to dwell on this ending. The Hawkeyes must take the winning weekend and keep it pushing.

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.