By Pete Ruden
Now sitting with a 6-1 record, Iowa baseball will head south for the third time in as many weeks to take on UAB.
The Hawkeyes are entering their first three-game series of the season with a team fresh off a 15-1 beatdown of Cornell College on Tuesday for preparation.
“It’s definitely important to keep that momentum going,” catcher Tyler Cropley said. “Just getting back out here and being outside again … Head down there on Thursday and play Friday. It’s some decent weather, so it’ll be good.”
The win over Cornell was positive in more than one way for the Hawkeyes; Iowa got 14 position players into the game and seven pitchers.
The opportunity to get a lot of role players into a game doesn’t come around that often, so it could be big that Iowa had a chance to show off its depth.
Of the seven pitchers who took the mound, only one allowed more than 1 hit, showcasing the strength of the staff.
“It’s definitely a huge advantage to be able to get your feet wet,” left-hander Trenton Wallace said. “The earlier in the season that we can get in and get these meaningful innings to us, I think it gives us a chance to settle into our roles and find where we are as a pitcher.”
While the pitching has been strong, the hitting hasn’t reached head coach Rick Heller’s expectations. Despite a 6-1 record and an average of 6.7 runs per game, there isn’t one player who stands out.
Third baseman Lorenzo Elion leads the Hawkeyes with a .364 average, and right fielder Robert Neustrom trails slightly with a .357 average. Cropley rounds out the group above .300, hitting .308.
Heller thinks his team will pick it up eventually, just as it did last year. Still, he’s pleased with the results so far.
“I wouldn’t say that anybody’s really hot right now,” Heller said. “To be able to be 6-1 and be able to tell you that we don’t have anybody hot offensively, and we’ve got five or six guys who are scuffling a little bit is a pretty good thing.”
UAB, which has fallen to 4-3 after starting the season 3-1, returns six starters from its squad that went 24-31 last season. This year, the Blazers aren’t expected to be much better — they were picked to finish 11th in the C-USA.
The problem with UAB this season has been its bats. Through seven games, the Blazers are hitting just .239 as a team with two players above .300, which Iowa can take advantage of with strong pitching.
UAB’s staff on the mound has been strong, though. The Blazers have a team ERA of 2.18 and have given up just 15 earned runs.
Iowa has had a chance to work on its mistakes, so it wants to show what it can do against a solid pitching team in Birmingham.
“The great thing about it is we’ve had a lot of games so far where we really didn’t play that well, so to be able to find ways to win and then be able to work without having to suffer has been great,” Heller said. “I just hope that we can build this weekend.”