February 2016

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201 T he mission for University of Iowa head base- ball coach Rick Heller isn't to rebuild, but to continuing building aer a 41-win NCAA Regional-qualifying season in 2015. Pieces are in place to make it happen with 20 returning Hawkeye letterwinners, including three All-Big Ten selections, 2/3 of its starting rotation, 10 pitchers, and four position players. Iowa also has a collection of freshmen who were the top- rated recruiting class in the Big Ten Conference. "is group has accepted the chal- lenge to take it a step further," said Heller, who has 71 wins in his first two seasons in Iowa City. "Usually things don't stay the same, they go backward or forward. "We're not where we want to be. Even though last year was a magi- cal year, we want to take the program even farther. It's a challenge with the losses we have, but that's where we set our goals. e players we have back have accepted that challenge." Iowa was built on pitching and defense in 2015 — shattering the school ERA record, finishing at 2.95 (the previous record was 3.63 in 1971). It was a formula that translated to the second-most victories in school history, a Big Ten Conference runner-up finish, and the program's first NCAA Tournament victory in 43 years. With All-American Tyler Peyton and second-team All-Big Ten selection Calvin Mathews back to an- chor the rotation — along with a deep bullpen — pitching will continue to be the team's backbone. "If we're going to have a great season, it's going to be based on the pitching staff and us playing great defense," said Heller. "Tyler and Calvin give us a chance to win virtually every time they take the baseball, and we'll have a lot of strength at the back of our bullpen. Last season, our bullpen was one of the keys to our success." Nick Hibbing, the NCAA Springfield Regional Most Outstanding Player, has graduated, but the Hawkeyes have a core in place. Seniors Luke Vandermaten and Tyler Radtke are primed to be the Hawkeyes' 1-2 punch at the end of games. Van- dermaten went 2-0 with a 1.06 ERA in 22 appear- ances as a junior, while Radtke has shown signs of returning to his 2014 form (2-2, 3.89 ERA). Redshirt junior Ryan Erickson will either step into Blake Hickman's slot as Iowa's Saturday starter or return to long relief. e le-hander was 4-1 with a 2.79 ERA last season. "We have quality options to go to, not only in the middle of games, but at the end of games," said Heller. From a position player standpoint, the Hawkeyes lost stalwarts Eric Toole, Kris Goodman, Jake Man- gler, and Nick Day, but Heller believes the team has a chance to be better offensively in 2016. Peyton is back as the team's top hitter aer finish- ing with a team-best .337 average with 11 doubles, 31 RBIs, and 31 runs scored as a junior. ird- team All-Big Ten shortstop Nick Roscetti, senior outfielder Joel Booker, and junior college transfer Mason McCoy are expected to be key cogs in the lineup. McCoy was a two-time All-American at Il- linois Central College and the Northwoods League MVP in 2015. (Click HERE to read more about McCoy). "I believe we have a chance to be a better offensive team than we were last year," said Heller. "I like the direction we're going; we have a lot of guys fighting for positions. Our hitting depth is deeper and we'll have more guys to come off the bench and more opportunities to play matchups and platoon if we need to. "Defensively, we're going to have to establish the outfield defense. Last year, it made so many plays and won so many games for us." e Hawkeyes open the season at Dallas Baptist from Feb. 19-21. Iowa's home opener is March 8 against Northwestern (Iowa) College at Duane Banks Field. FEBRUARY SCHEDULE Feb. 19-21 at Dallas Baptist Feb. 26 vs. Indiana State Feb. 27 vs. Dartmouth Feb. 28 vs. Chicago State

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