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Heller 'Feels Good' About 2014 Hawkeyes
Iowa opens the season 1 week from today in Clarksville, Tenn., at Austin Peay
UI head coach Rick Heller feels good about the 2014 UI baseball team.
UI head coach Rick Heller feels good about the 2014 UI baseball team.
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Feb. 7, 2014

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    By JAMES ALLAN
    hawkeyesports.com

    IOWA CITY, Iowa -- With seven days remaining until the season opener for the University of Iowa baseball team, first-year UI head coach Rick Heller is feeling good about the 2014 Hawkeyes.

    bsbherky

    "It's nice to come into a program with a lot of experience," Heller said Friday during the team's media day. "The majority of our team is juniors with only three seniors on the roster. There are some good players, and it will give us a chance to be competitive this year."

    Heller inherited a squad that returns eight starters and 20 letterwinners from a team that finished 22-27 in 2013. Twenty-two of the 34-players on the roster are upperclassmen.





    "This team has a lot of potential. Everything we've been hitting hard on is going to translate on to the field. If we keep doing what we know we can do, and we take care of ourselves, then the wins will take care of themselves, too."
    Junior shortstop Jake Yacinich


    The Hawkeyes return virtually all of its offensive production from a season ago with 98 percent (1,652-of-1,684) of their runs, 81 percent (155-of-191) of their RBIs and 81 percent of their doubles (43-of-53) returning. On the mound, Iowa welcomes back pitchers that posted 11-of-the-22 victories and tossed 256 2/3-of-447 innings.

    Heller rattled off player-after-player when asked which players have stood out the most since he took over the program in July. It's a sign that Iowa has the talent to compete in Heller's first go-round.

    "From a leadership standpoint, Jake Mangler has been outstanding," he said. "Both on and off the field, he has been one of our top guys. (Jake) Yacinich and (Eric) Toole are two very good players.

    "Eric has had a great offseason, and I think he'll be stronger with the bat. Nick Day will have a big year, Kris Goodman, (Taylor) Zeutenhorst, Trevor Kenyon. Up and down the lineup, we've had a lot of guys that have improved from a positional player standpoint."

    Heller named sophomore Calvin Mathews as his Friday night starter when the Hawkeyes open the season Feb. 14 at Austin Peay. The right-hander was 2-5 with a 4.91 ERA as a true freshman. He will be followed in the rotation by junior southpaw Sasha Kuebel and sophomore right-hander Tyler Peyton.

    "Calvin has pitched extremely well since January, and we need him to be healthy," said Heller. "Sasha has done well, and Nick Hibbing had a great offseason. I feel really good about our club right now."

    Toole says this team has the talent to be playing in the Big Ten Tournament in May. Iowa's road to TD Ameritrade Park became less muddled Friday when the Big Ten office announced the 2014 field will expand to eight teams (up from six) for the first time in its history.

    "We could make a run at the tournament and win the tournament with the talent we have here," said Toole, a second-team All-Big Ten selection in 2013. "Last year injuries hurt us and people weren't playing to where they needed to. This year the pitching staff is doing well and there are no injuries. We can do it."

    Yacinich says the Feb. 14 season-opener can't come soon enough.

    "We're excited for this year," he said. "We've been ready since August or Sept. We still have seven days to keep winning, keep getting better and get ready for that first game.

    "This team has a lot of potential. Everything we've been hitting hard on is going to translate on to the field. If we keep doing what we know we can do, and we take care of ourselves, then the wins will take care of themselves, too."

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