IOWA CITY, Iowa. – The University of Iowa baseball team (14-6) is in first place in the Big-Ten conference. Healthy bats and pitching that can go deep into innings are putting the Hawkeyes where they want to be. Rick Heller, the head coach for the Hawkeyes spoke with College Baseball Central Wednesday and gave us his reaction.
“We know it’s just the start,” Heller explained. “There are big challenges coming soon, but I couldn’t be happier with how they’re doing, they have bought in to what we’re trying to do.”
UI is batting a sturdy .311 as a team, while holding opponents to a .272 batting average. A veteran team, the Hawkeyes field a squad comprised of 18 juniors and three seniors which along with the rest of the team have compiled 221 hits, 43 doubles, three triples,11 home runs, 134 RBIs, as well as a .400 on-base-percentage with 153 runs scored.
“With the junior based team we have, we knew coming in that the development of the players was going to be the most important thing,” the first year coach added. “We are playing the game and not the opponent, and that is the key to success. The guys are getting quality at-bats.”
Guys like Dan Potempa (.440, 22 hits, one home run, 13 RBIs), Taylor Zeutenhorst (.275, 22 hits, four home runs, 21 RBIs), Jake Yacinich (.325, 25 hits, 12 RBIs), as well as Jake Mangler (.372, 29 hits, one home run, 21 RBIs) are putting the wallop on the ball and terrorizing the Big-Ten pitchers.
“The team only hit two home runs last year,” Heller pointed out. “We needed to get stronger in the weight room and we’ve done that. Those guys need to be run producers, and so far our approach at the plate has been solid.”
Hawkeye pitching is sporting a respectable team ERA of 4.50, and showing the ability to go deep into the game has been a welcomed spice in the recipe for success. Calvin Matthews (2-1) has put up a 1.89 ERA with 32 strikeouts and has Heller feeling good about his projection.
“When Calvin got here in January he was lights out,” Heller said. “Every time he pitches he gives us a chance to win.”
Two-way threat Tyler Peyton (3-0) is making noise on the mound as well as in the batter’s box. The 6 feet 3 inch 180 pound sophomore — who transferred from Iowa Central — has a stout resume that highlights 29 strikeouts on the hill, together with a batting average of .436 with 17 hits, five doubles, and six RBIs.
“We went after Tyler hard,” said Heller. “He is a tremendous player.”
Iowa is doing the right things now, and Big-Ten opponents are finding themselves with a hearty task at hand when facing this team — that is 13-0 — when leading after eight innings. On the other hand, winning is no unfamiliar situation to Heller. He just won his 700th game on March 15, in a 13-1 victory over Georgetown at the Snowbird Baseball Classic.
Heller’s voice was humble when asked about his remarkable milestone, replying — “I just go play every day. It helped me to reminisce, and think about all the guys that have played for me over the years.”