New season, new team for Iowa baseball

With question marks surrounding holes to fill throughout the team, Iowa baseball remains confident it has the Hawkeyes for the job.

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New season, new team for Iowa baseball

Iowa head coach Rick Heller calls to the bullpen for a pitching change during Iowa's game against Oklahoma State at Duane Banks Field on Saturday May 5, 2018. The Hawkeyes defeated the Cowboys 16-14.

Iowa head coach Rick Heller calls to the bullpen for a pitching change during Iowa's game against Oklahoma State at Duane Banks Field on Saturday May 5, 2018. The Hawkeyes defeated the Cowboys 16-14.

Nick Rohlman

Iowa head coach Rick Heller calls to the bullpen for a pitching change during Iowa's game against Oklahoma State at Duane Banks Field on Saturday May 5, 2018. The Hawkeyes defeated the Cowboys 16-14.

Nick Rohlman

Nick Rohlman

Iowa head coach Rick Heller calls to the bullpen for a pitching change during Iowa's game against Oklahoma State at Duane Banks Field on Saturday May 5, 2018. The Hawkeyes defeated the Cowboys 16-14.

Adam Hensley, Pregame Editor

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Going into the 2018 Big Ten Tournament, Iowa baseball boasted a 33-18 record and had won seven of its previous 10 games. The Hawkeyes had hopes of taking a second-consecutive conference tournament title.

Instead, they left Omaha as the first team out, leaving a sour taste in the mouths of the players with bigger aspirations.

“It’s definitely motivation,” pitcher Cole McDonald said. “… But honestly, once the season ends, you kind of just flush it away.”

Now, with an offseason under its belt, Iowa will have its first real-game action today, when it travels to Kissimmee, Florida, for the Diamond 9 Sunshine State Classic Series. Iowa will clash with George Mason at 10 a.m. today before facing Pittsburgh on Saturday and Marshall on Feb. 17 to close the weekend.

RELATED: Iowa baseball’s Whelan takes on leadership role

McDonald, as well as his teammates, stressed that this is a new team — and it truly is. Iowa lost its usual Friday pitcher in Nick Allgeyer (graduation) and two of its best power hitters in Robert Neustrom and Tyler Cropley (professional leagues).

There are plenty of shoes to fill, but many key pieces to the puzzle return. McDonald has taken over Allgeyer’s role as the Friday pitcher, and Jack Dreyer and Grant Judkins have filled the Saturday and Sunday roles, respectively.

Katina Zentz
Iowa catcher Tyler Cropley dives back to second base during baseball Iowa vs. Oklahoma State at Duane Banks Field on May 6, 2018. The Hawkeyes defeated the Cowboys 11-3.

But offensively, the Hawkeyes haven’t pinpointed who that go-to hitter will be. Cropley led the team last season with a .342 batting average and 68 hits, and Neustrom finished second in the starting lineup with his .311 average. Neustrom also led the Hawkeyes with 11 homers.

“A lot of guys who are going to have to step up are coming back,” head coach Rick Heller said. “I feel like with this team, from the leadoff hitter to the 9-hole, we’ve got a really solid group. I don’t know that there’s a guy who’s going to hit 15-20 home runs, but I think we have a much more consistent lineup than even what we had last season, from top to bottom.”

That’s where the returnees come into play. Chris Whelan missed time last season because of an injury, but he comes off a season in which he batted .308, notched 48 hits, and hit 4 homers. Meanwhile, Lorenzo Elion comes back for his senior season after batting .275 and recording 39 hits.

RELATED:Iowa baseball searching for go-to closing pitcher

Whelan, though, doesn’t see himself as Iowa’s leadoff man. Instead, he said during Iowa’s media day, he sees himself lower in the lineup.

“This year, I think I’ll move down a little bit in the order,” he said. “Hopefully [I’ll] get some more RBI opportunities somewhere in the middle — 3, 4, or 5, something like that.”

Whelan also noted that Justin Jenkins and Ben Norman, two players with exceptional speed, are guys who could fill the leadoff role and give the team an added advantage when it comes to stealing bases.

Whatever lineup Heller elects to go with today, the Hawkeyes will have time to shake things out. It’s a long season. There are plenty of new faces mixed in with returning veterans, but one thing is for sure: The players believe they have a special group of talent.

“This year, we have a great group of guys,” McDonald said. “We’ve got the culture started that we wanted to start the year off with, [and] the new guys so they knew what the expectations were. We have a ton of great guys that are selfless and want to do what’s best for the team.”

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