Iowa baseball focusing on momentum heading into Big Ten Tournament

The Hawkeyes enter the conference tournament as the No. 3 seed and will face sixth-seeded Penn State on Wednesday evening.


Grace Smith

Iowa head coach Rick Heller smiles during the first baseball game of a doubleheader between Iowa and Illinois at Duane Banks Field in Iowa City on Saturday, April 9, 2022. The Hawkeyes defeated the Fighting Illini, 4-2.

Isaac Goffin, Sports Reporter

As Iowa baseball student-athletes and head coach Rick Heller addressed reporters on Monday morning, it became clear the Hawkeyes are trying to maintain their momentum. 

After sweeping Indiana last weekend to cap the regular season, the Hawkeyes enter the 2022 Big Ten Baseball Tournament as the No. 3 seed. They will face sixth-seeded Penn State to open the eight-team, double-elimination tournament on Wednesday at 5 p.m. at Charles Schwab Field Omaha. 

“I think we’re playing our best baseball right now,” Iowa infielder Izaya Fullard said. “In my past, we’ve struggled the last few weeks [of the season]  and that wasn’t the case this year. We won five of our last six.” 

The stakes are high for the Hawkeyes in Nebraska. At 33-17 overall, and 17-7 in the conference, Iowa was projected as the first at-large program not selected for the NCAA Tournament by D1Baseball on Sunday. Collegiate Baseball’s NCAA Division I poll on Monday ranked the Hawkeyes at No. 30

Since Heller’s first season leading the Black and Gold in 2014, the Hawkeyes have appeared in the NCAA Tournament twice. They qualified as an at-large bid in 2015 and were an automatic selection after winning the conference tournament in 2017. 

“From our point of view, it’s pretty simple,” Heller said. “The only way to guarantee yourself a shot at the NCAA Tournament is to win the [Big Ten] Tournament, and then you increase your odds with each time you’re able to find a way to win a game.”

Heller said pitcher Adam Mazur will start Wednesday’s contest. It will mark the first time the Hawkeye ace has faced the Nittany Lions as the programs didn’t meet during the regular season. Mazur is 7-2 with a 3.05 ERA in 2022. 

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Unlike some of his teammates, Mazur’s performance versus Indiana was one for him to forget. The South Dakota State transfer put nine earned runs to his name over two innings in Thursday’s 30-16 Hawkeye victory with the wind blowing out.  

“I’m looking to rebound in a big way,” Mazur said. “Just knowing that every pitcher gets roughed up, so that was my time to get it out of the way, and I was happy it happened before the Big Ten Tournament. So, going into it with a lot more to prove and a lot more confidence because I know that if I can do what I’m able to do, good things happen.” 

There’s a possibility Mazur appears for a second time in the Big Ten Tournament if the Hawkeyes advance to the championship game on Sunday, Heller said.  

“That’s something you’d have to look at the time on how he’s feeling and how many pitches he throws on Wednesday,” Heller said. “He’s had two straight weeks of short rest. I would never jeopardize his career for one game.

“But if he was healthy and felt good, I will tell you this, of all of our pitchers, Adam’s fitness level is the highest on the team by far,” Heller added. “He’s really fit. Bounces back really well.” 

If Iowa downs Penn State, the Hawkeyes will face the winner of second-seed Rutgers and seventh-seed Purdue on Thursday. 

The Hawkeyes will also play on Thursday if they fall to the Nittany Lions, meeting the loser of the Rutgers-Purdue contest. All tournament games will be broadcasted on the Big Ten Network. 

“Anyone can win,” Fullard said. “Every game is important, every team that’s there deserves to be there, and I think that’s the mindset that we have to go in is that we should take it one game at a time.”