By Adam Hensley
It’s that time of the year again.
Iowa baseball makes its highly anticipated season début at Banks Field today, taking on Cornell College at 4 p.m.
Aside from a shaky contest against Ball State over the weekend, Iowa enters its first Tuesday game of the season with a 5-1 record — a sizzling start for a team poised with Big Ten Tournament aspirations on its mind.
“The sky’s the limit,” outfielder Robert Neustrom, who’s hitting .368 on the season, said back on Iowa’s media day.
But postseason play starts in May, and the Rams will be the top priority on the Hawkeye radar this afternoon.
Today marks the 71st meeting between Iowa and Cornell, with Iowa taking 60 of those games. These teams met last season, but for only two innings. Rain after the two scoreless resulted in a cancellation.
The last time these teams played a complete game was in 2015, when the Hawkeyes took down the Rams, 9-1.
Last season, Cornell finished one game below .500 last season (19-20), but fared well in the Midwest Conference, winning 12 of its 20 games in league play. Today’s game is the Rams’ first of the season.
Iowa has six games under its belt in a young season, and the Hawkeyes are fresh off a three-game series in New Orleans at the Allstate Sugar Bowl Baseball Classic.
The Black and Gold flew back to Iowa City with two more wins after the weekend, one coming in walk-off fashion and the other in an all-around solid performance.
Iowa recorded only 4 hits against Virginia Tech on Feb. 23, but outfielder Ben Norman hit a ball right at third baseman Sam Fragale; the ball went past him, and Kace Massner was able to reach home from second base.
It was Iowa’s second game decided by a walk-off this season — the first one came in the Hawkeyes’ opener against Toledo on Feb. 16.
“We’re never really out of the game,” Norman said after Iowa’s first walk-off.
Iowa’s matchup with Cornell isn’t a high-stakes game by any means, but getting a win would extend Iowa’s record to 7-1 – the best start to a season since 2015, the same year the Hawkeyes finished 41-18 and made the NCAA Tournament.
Since head coach Rick Heller took over the program in 2014, Iowa has won at least 30 games in each of his four seasons. Last season, Heller’s squad shocked many by making a run for the ages in the Big Ten Tournament, claiming the program’s first conference title in school history.
“Honestly, I didn’t look toward the Iowa program years ago,” catcher Tyler Cropley said. “I don’t know how many people really did until Coach came in and turned it around. Now I think a lot of people are looking for us to go further than we did last year, and the expectations are really high.”
Today’s game will feature a pitching matchup between Hawkeye Trenton Wallace and Ram Zachary Greenwald. In 1.2 innings this season, Wallace has a 5.40 ERA and only given up a single hit.