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Big Ten champs for the first time

Hawk Talk

It kind of surprised me to find out that when Iowa won the Big Ten baseball championship on Sunday May 28, it was the first time the Hawkeyes were Big Ten champs.
The Hawks went 4-1 in the tournament beating Maryland and Nebraska, losing to Minnesota and then beating the Gophers in a second game before finally knocking out Northwestern in the championship, 13-4.
The Hawks automatically qualified to the NCAA regionals for the second time in three years.
Iowa knocked off No. 1 seed Houston, 6-3, in the first game of the regionals, lost to Texas A&M, 3-2, and then was knocked out of the tournament by Houston 7-5 late Sunday night.
The Hawkeyes finished 39-22, 15-9 in the Big Ten and played some exciting baseball with some great long ball hitting.
I had a chance to talk to assistant coach Marty Sutherland, who has been an Iowa coach for three years. Marty played and coached under Iowa head coach Rick Heller at the University of Northern Iowa.
You start with junior Jake Adams, who was named unanimous Big Ten Player of the Year and second team All-American.
All Jake did was crush the school and Big Ten record in home runs with 29, which also led the nation. Jake hit number 29 in Iowa’s last game, a 7-5 loss to Houston.
Last year, the Hawkeye team hit 26 home runs. The Iowa record for homers was 22 set in 1986 and the Big Ten record was 27 set in 2002.
Jake also led the team with a .335 batting average, had the most RBI with 72, tied with senior Mason McCoy for most runs scored (55) and was second in hits with 82.
To think that he would have signed with North Dakota, but they dropped baseball and he became a Hawkeye.
“We knew he had power coming in,” said coach Rick Heller, “But you never really know what type of hitter someone is. Soon after he arrived, we knew we had someone special. I’ve been doing this a long time and you get very few chances to coach a guy like him.”
The only thing bad about Jake having such a great year is that he has a good chance to get drafted in the first 10 rounds of the major league draft and most likely would turn pro this summer.
Jake started the year batting fourth but the opposition started to pitch around him.
Coach Heller moved Jake to bat third and sophomore Robert Neustrom to fourth.
Robert finished third on the team with a .310 batting average and tied for second with nine home runs.
“It’s been a fun season,” said Robert. “We have a special team here. One through nine in the lineup can come through at any time. I think that’s been the funnest part of the year. The pitching staff has really picked it up, especially in the tournament.”
Robert was third on the team in hits (79) and hit a grand slam against Bradley.
The 6-3, 209-pound right fielder started every game, was second team All-Big Ten and didn’t make an error all season.
“Robert has a bright future,” said coach Sutherland. “He was a four-sport athlete in high school and he has improved in every area and will have plenty of major league scouts looking at him next spring.”
Robert’s walk-off 446-foot home run against Ohio State was the first walk-off home run in Banks field since 2007.
Jake had 27 multiple-hit games followed by Mason with 26, Robert with 25 and redshirt sophomore Chris Whelan with 22 as the Hawkeyes’ top four were as good as it gets in the Big Ten.
“Obviously I had a great year but I couldn’t have done it without my teammates,” said Jake. “A lot of teams were starting to pitch around me but with Robert Neustrom batting behind me and Mason McCoy in front of me it’s kind of hard to do that.”
Mason was second on the team with a .328 batting average, led the team in hits (83), doubles (18) and tied Jake for first with 55 runs scored.
“Mason was really consistent all year,” said coach Sutherland. “He was also one of the best defenders in our league.”
Mason was second team All-Big Ten and was one of the captains on the team.
Chris Whelan led off for the Hawkeyes most of the season and was named the Big Ten Tournament Most Valuable Player.
Chris hit .333 for the Big Ten tourney, with two doubles, two home runs, four runs scored and three RBI.
“We were struggling at the leadoff spot,” said coach Sutherland. “Once we put Chris there he gave us a professional at-bat. He does exactly what the leadoff hitter is trying to do, which is get on base.”
Chris hit .309 for the season and led the team with a .435 on-base percentage.
“Hellerball is one of our staples,” said Chris. “Every single guy is ready to pick up whoever if someone doesn’t get the job done. The next guy is going to pick them up.”
Junior Tyler Cropley was named second team All-Big Ten this year after batting .268 with nine home runs, tied for second on the team.
“He got off to a rough start offensively,” said coach Sutherland. “but he’s the best catcher defensively we’ve had since we’ve been here.”
Junior Matt Hoeg started 53 games at third base and tied for third in the Big Ten with 16 doubles.
“That was a big question mark going into the season– who was going to play third,” said coach Marty. “Matt did a great job and really came up with some big hits.”
Centerfielder Ben Norman was named freshman All-American after batting .296 and leading the team with 14 stolen bases.
“His dad and mom were Hawkeye alumni,” said Marty. “His dad (Ron) played basketball (for Lute Olsen) and baseball for Iowa. He (Ben) probably matured the most as a player and played better than anybody in our regional.”
Sophomore Mitchell Boe started 59 games at second base and only made five errors, batted .244 and was part of a double play tandem that was one of the best in the nation.
“Mitchell really is a competitive kid,” said Marty. “He plays with a lot of energy. That kid, you really want to go into a fight with him. He had some clutch hits and we’re trying to get him more consistent. Iowa was top-five in the nation in double plays and Mitchell was a big part of that.”
Iowa had solid pitching down the stretch and former West High Trojan Nick Gallagher led the way.
Nick finished 8-2, had a 3.83 ERA and led the team with 95 innings pitched.
Nick, a junior, also had a team-high 87 strikeouts and only 25 walks.
“He’s had a really great career here,” said coach Sutherland. “Down the stretch I know he didn’t pitch as well as he wanted to, but he kept us in games. His ability to pitch deep in games is so important.”
Sophomore Zack Daniels was one of the top relievers, pitching in 24 games. He had a 7-3 record and a 3.22 ERA.
“He ended the year with probably the best outing he had,” said Marty. “He was pretty electric against Texas A&M. It was a good year for him. He probably learned a little more about himself, the type of pitcher he is and hopefully that last outing will help springboard him to next year.”
Speaking of next year, the Hawkeyes have a good nucleus coming back, a good recruiting class coming in and another shot at making a run in the Big Ten.
With Rick Heller in charge, the sky is the limit for Iowa.