Iowa baseball doesn’t want a repeat of its 2018 Big Ten Tournament — the Hawkeyes went from tournament champs to the first team eliminated.
With this season’s Big Ten Tournament on the horizon, Iowa is gearing up for a refreshed run in the postseason. But the current week can’t be overlooked.
No midweek games, finals, and a three-game weekend series against Michigan State sit on the docket for this week.
“It’s a challenging week for everyone — you’ve got finals, we’re out of our routine,” Iowa head coach Rick Heller said. “You’ve got graduation, Alumni Day, Senior Day — you’ve got all these things you don’t deal with very often, and it’s just another test for our team. If you can’t handle those tests, then you don’t go to the postseason. It’s just one of the tests a team has to pass, and that’s my message, that’s the reality of it.”
In the midst of it all, Iowa’s four captains — Cole McDonald, Chris Whelan, Mitchell Boe, and Kyle Shimp — have played a major part in keeping everyone focused.
Shimp (a redshirt junior) and the other three seniors make up the bulk of the Hawkeyes’ experience. There are just seven seniors on the Iowa roster; and the core quartet has been through this before. According to their coach, their composure and focus during a week of distraction provides the glue to hold things together.
“They’re super important. That’s why this team is where it is right now,” Heller said. “[They’ve] all been to the places this team wants to go. They’ve been able … to make sure guys are focused on all the right things.”
A sizable chunk of the Iowa roster consists of athletes who haven’t played more than two seasons with the team, and for them, this part of the season is new.
Izaya Fullard is one of those Hawkeyes, and he chalked up this final week’s extra focus to the captains’ leadership.
“Our captains are great,” he said. “They do a great job of communicating well with us. Especially during this week, they’ve told us to get our studies in — if we have to be late to practice or something like that, just communicate and always come in and get your work done.”
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That concentration isn’t associated with just this week, however.
McDonald, Iowa’s Friday night starter on the mound, thinks that his — and the rest of the veterans’ — job of instilling focus before the season began is a major reason the emphasis remains strong at this point, with just three games left until the Big Ten Tournament.
“It started right away in the fall, when everyone got to campus,” McDonald said. “We just made sure how everyone knew how it was going to be done this year and the expectations and effort.”
After starting 0-3 in Big Ten play, the Hawkeyes are 11-4 in the conference since, and thanks to their steady performances, have positioned themselves in a prime shot for another postseason run.
But the key to keeping the momentum of six series wins in a row (and adding to that with Michigan State this weekend) lies in consistency, both physically and mentally.
“It’s the focus you need to have every single game,” McDonald said. “You can’t be up and down with focus — it doesn’t matter if you’re on the mound, in the field. You’ve got to come to the ballpark each day and be ready to put your work in.”