By Adam Hensley
Iowa baseball is 3-0 for the first time under head coach Rick Heller’s tutelage, and the Hawkeyes will try to extend their blemish-free record starting today against Virginia Tech in the Allstate Sugar Bowl Baseball Classic.
Today’s matchup against the Hokies marks the first of three contests this weekend in New Orleans for the Black and Gold — Iowa will square off with Ball State on Feb. 24 and New Orleans on Feb. 25 in its three-game series.
Heller and Company will have their hands full, though, because scouting reports are hard to come by this early in the season.
“It’s tough when you only have a week to get ready,” Heller said. “With Virginia Tech, we know the coach from Maryland. This is his first year at Virginia Tech … we at least know his style of play and some things like that. But [we] really don’t know a whole lot about [his] team.”
Today’s pitching matchup pits Iowa’s Nick Allgeyer against Nic Enright. Their season-opening performances were on opposite ends of the spectrum on Feb. 16.
Allgeyer pitched five innings, giving up 4 hits and 3 runs. The junior struck out 7, though, over the course of his outing.
Enright took the loss to Coastal Carolina. He lasted 3.1 innings, giving up 5 hits, 4 runs, and 2 home runs. He only struck out 2. Virginia Tech’s pitching was something less than stellar in that game, and the Hokies lost, 17-2.
“[Enright] was hit around pretty good,” Heller said. “They ran into a Coastal Carolina team that really swung it well on opening night, and anything can happen on opening night.”
Anything that could happen, did, in Iowa’s season-opener against Toledo.
The Hawkeyes were down, 3-1, after five innings, and they failed to put any runs on the board until the eighth inning, when Robert Neustrom jacked a home run over the right field wall.
Iowa still trailed, 3-2, until the bottom of the ninth, when it employed some of its late-inning magic.
Ben Norman singled to right, and Lorenzo Elion and Matt Hoeg scored, giving Iowa a win in dramatic walk-off fashion.
“We came from behind, and we had to fight and claw our way back,” Norman said. “I think that shows that we can be resilient — not matter what, we’re never really out of the game … one moment, you’re behind in the game, and the next moment, you’re ahead in the game, and you just won the game. It’s just a huge transfer of emotions.”
The Hawkeyes went on to win their next two games, taking down Oakland, 8-6, and Old Dominion, 4-1, that same weekend.
Matt Hoeg has proved to be a consistent figure at the plate during Iowa’s undefeated start. The senior has cranked out a .625 batting average, recording 5 hits in 8 at-bats.
“I give a lot of [credit] to my coaches, especially hitting coach Sean Moore,” Hoeg said. “He’s worked with me nonstop since he got here, and he’s been a big blessing in my life.”
A .625 batting average isn’t something to scoff at one bit. As much as Heller would love to have one of his batters hitting at that level, he knows it’s not realistic to expect that for an entire season.
“I don’t think anyone’s going to stay at .625,” Heller said. “But I know Matt has worked really hard on shortening his swing up and trying to be quicker to the ball. I think all of us saw signs that he has a chance to be more consistent this season.”
Following Iowa’s return from New Orleans, the Hawkeyes will gear up for their first home game of the season, a Feb. 27 contest with Cornell College at Banks Field.