It’s all or nothing for the Iowa baseball team beginning today at the Big Ten Championships.
Losses in the final five games of the regular season have left the Hawkeyes with only one path to reach the NCAA tournament for the third time in five years.
“We’re going to go there and try to run the table. That’s what we have to do,’’ coach Rick Heller said. “It’s still right there in front of us.’’
But the margin for error has evaporated for Iowa, which is the eighth seed in the double-elimination tournament and faces top-seeded Indiana in a 5 p.m. opening-round game today at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Nebraska.
The Hoosiers swept a three-game series from Iowa in March, outscoring the Hawkeyes 23-4 during the opening weekend of Big Ten play.
It’s a match-up Iowa players don’t necessarily mind.
“The Big Ten tourney always seems like a war of attrition,’’ Hawkeye senior Chris Whelan said. “Things are always so close in the Big Ten and it’s been especially close this year. We’re the eighth seed, but we could easily have been the one seed. Every team is that equal. I’m glad we’re playing Indiana again.’’
Heller, whose team brings a 30-22 overall record into the tourney after finishing 12-12 in Big Ten play, said his team must resolve recent struggles on the mound if it hopes to make a deep tournament run.
Hawkeye starters in general have struggled throughout the final five games of the Big Ten schedule.
In that span only one start, a six-inning effort by Grant Judkins against Michigan State, has lasted longer than five innings and on three occasions the Hawkeye starting pitcher hasn’t made it more than three-and-one-third innings.
“We’ve had some things that have gone wrong, especially on the mound, but we haven’t lost because we haven’t fought,’’ Heller said, pointing to a four-run rally in the ninth inning of a Friday loss at Maryland and a grand slam that tied a Saturday setback to the Terrapins.
“It’s not like it has been a total collapse. It’s been a little blip on the radar at the wrong time of the year.’’
Whelan said Iowa needs to continue to fight to move beyond its recent issues.
He pointed to the Hawkeyes’ run to the tourney championship two years ago as an example.
“When we won it, we had to face some tough opponents. No one wants to go home at this point,’’ Whelan said. “I don’t want my career to end in Omaha and that’s my mindset going in.’’
Heller senses that mindset as well.
“I think all of our guys are fired up,’’ he said. “This is a fresh start, the postseason.’’
It’s a new opportunity, and the only one Iowa has left if it hopes to meet its goal of returning to NCAA tourney play.