Feb. 9, 2012
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Senior pitcher Jarred Hippen called it a coincidence that pitcher after pitcher after pitcher were first to come forward for interviews during media day Thursday in the bubble.
Teams playing the University of Iowa this season probably won't think that way when head coach Jack Dahm sends quality arm after arm after arm to the mound.
"Whenever you have Hippen and (Matt) Dermody back, and then Nick Brown and (Patrick) Lala -- those four guys have a lot of starts and have thrown a lot of innings from us," Dahm said. "That's definitely our strength as a program."
The Hawkeyes opens the season Friday, Feb. 17, against Pittsburgh in the Big East/Big Ten Challenge in St. Petersburg, Fla. Iowa is also scheduled to play Notre Dame and West Virginia during the first weekend.
"We're ready to go," said Dermody, who was 4-6 last season with 14 starts. "We're excited to head down to Florida and get three wins. With our pitching staff, we can hold a lot of teams down in runs, and if we can swing the bat, we can do some damage."
Iowa looks to improve on last season's record of 20-32 overall, 9-15 in the Big Ten Conference. Dermody is joined by fellow pitchers Hippen (4-6, 3.14 earned run average), Tim Fangman (2-1, 2.94), Lala (2-6, 4.30) and Ricky Sandquist (1-4, 9.45). Also back after missing the entire 2011 season because of injury is Nick Brown, who won five games in nine starts in 2010.
"I feel good," Brown said. "The injury was frustrating for a while, but now that I'm healthy, the last thing I want to think about is being hurt again. Everything is good; my legs are good, my arm feels good, and I'm probably in the best shape I've been since my freshman year."
"Whenever you have Hippen and (Matt) Dermody back, and then Nick Brown and (Patrick) Lala -- those four guys have a lot of starts and have thrown a lot of innings from us. That's definitely our strength as a program."
UI head baseball coach
"Our pen is real deep. It's going to be a good year," Hippen said.
He also knows that the Hawkeye staff will need run support, and early projections indicate they might be scoring more than the 4.8 runs they averaged per game a year ago.
"This is as far ahead as we've ever been offensively going into our first game," said senior second baseman Mike McQuillan.
McQuillan enters the season with a three-game hitting streak. He led the Hawkeyes a year ago with a .350 batting average, 66 hits, two home runs and 31 runs batted in. Also returning in the field are third baseman Chett Zeise (.275-2-19), centerfielder Taylor Zeutenhorst (.261-0-15), utility infielder Andrew Ewing (.261-0-10), first baseman Bryan Niedbalski (.255-1-10), first baseman Phil Keppler (.208-1-15) and right fielder Andrew Host (.167-0-3).
"I feel like we're hitting the ball well right now," Zeutenhorst said. "We've made some good strides."
"We have so much internal competition that, as coaches, we need some guys to step up and play well for us early," Dahm said. "All the seniors could play a major role in the program, and then we also have a lot of talented young guys. We could have a lot of freshmen in the lineup on a daily basis, too."
Although not a freshman, a lot is expected of junior catcher Dan Sheppard, who started two games last season and batted .286 with an RBI. Some newcomers to keep an eye on include left-handed pitcher Sasha Kuebel, right-handed pitcher Andrew Hanse, outfielder Eric Toole, and shortstop Jacob Yacinich.
Staying healthy is always a concern, but the Hawkeyes' depth should allow them to overcome the typical nicks that occur during a 50-plus-game season.
"I've been pleased with our effort and our focus the first weeks of practice," Dahm said. "It's probably the best since we've been here as far as our players and their focus, effort and consistency in practice."
An added bonus is that Iowa has been outside to practice three times during this mild winter, something that should be a benefit when the Hawkeyes get outside for real in the Sunshine State in eight days.
"We have three big (pitching) starters that we have a lot of confidence in," Fangman said. "We're going to go out there and hit the ball, throw the ball, play a little catch and get some wins. Our ultimate goal is a Big Ten championship."
The Hawkeyes play their first 16 games in Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee. Their first outing in Duane Banks Field is scheduled for Wednesday, March 21, against Grand View University.