April 13, 2010
Sauk Valley Newspaper By Ty Reynolds
The term "Friday Night Lights" provokes thoughts of high school football games in the crisp autumn air.
But among Big Ten baseball pitchers, it's the place and time each aspires to spend on the mound. Friday nights mark the first game of a weekend series, when teams send their top pitchers to battle for the all-important first win of the three-game set.
It's a time and place Rock Falls' Jarred Hippen has started to excel as the University of Iowa's ace.
"I love it, wouldn't have it any other way," Hippen said Wednesday from Iowa City. "I'm a really competitive person, and I love going up against every team's best pitcher. I like to see what the other guys have and try to go out and match them."
"He's definitely got Friday night stuff," Iowa pitching coach Chris Maliszewski said. "The biggest thing that earned him that spot, though, was the maturity level he showed us in the fall and winter. He showed us that he could handle the pressure of that spot."
As a freshman in 2009, Hippen tied for the team lead with nine starts with a team-high 68 1/3 innings pitched and 50 strikeouts. He finished 3-4 with a 4.87 earned-run average.
Still, the perfectionist in Hippen wasn't satisfied. He played for Quincy in the Prospect League last summer, but he wasn't focused on stats.
"The only thing I had on my mind was getting a feel for my changeup," Hippen said. "I wanted to get comfortable throwing that third pitch, one I know I'm going to need to use effectively. It's become a pretty reliable pitch for me."
Armed with the changeup to go with an accurate fastball and devastating curve, Hippen arrived back in Iowa City last fall with even more confidence in his stuff.
But that wasn't the biggest hurdle in his adjustment from high school standout to solid college starter.
Early last season, Hippen discovered that the proper mental approach makes a pitcher successful in college. Iowa's coaches are impressed with his improved ability to handle difficult situations, pointing to a March 5 game against Kansas as an example.
"It was an 8-1 loss and Jarred didn't have the best game," Maliszewski said. "But his reaction was what we wanted to see.
"Last year, in an effort like that, he would've melted down; he didn't do that this time, he just sucked it up and kept pitching hard. That showed us he'd matured enough to bounce back and shake bad things off. That was a big step in the right direction for Jarred."
That step led to his best outing, last Friday at Michigan State. Hippen became the first Hawkeye to throw a complete game since May 2004, beating the Spartans 5-3.
"It means a lot to me to be the first Iowa pitcher to do that in quite some time," said Hippen, who allowed seven hits in nine innings. "My catcher, Tyson [Blaser], shook my hand after the game and said, `Thanks.'
"I asked him for what, and he told me he'd never caught a complete game since he got to Iowa."
The win improved Hippen's record to 2-2, with the Hawkeyes 4-3 in games he's started. He leads the Hawkeyes with a 2.62 ERA, 32 strikeouts, 48 innings pitched and a .257 opponents' batting average.
His first win of the season, Feb. 26 against Rutgers, saw Hippen pitch 8 2/3 innings of six-hit ball, with eight strikeouts and one walk in a 6-3 victory.
"Jarred's got a three-pitch repertoire that the rest of our staff doesn't have," Maliszewski said. "He has tremendous command of his fastball, he can keep hitters off-balance with his ability to mix his pitches and he can dominate a game against the other team's best pitcher. That's why he gets the ball on Friday."