Schwartz – Sunday Read: Hawkeye News & Notes

May 21, 2017

Written by David Schwartz

Hawkeye Nation

Spring football is over. The lawsuits are over. For the University of Iowa, even the school year is over.

The last thing left on Iowa’s 2016-17 calendar is the Big Ten’s baseball tournament.

The Hawkeyes, seeded fifth in the eight-team field, are scheduled to open against fourth-seeded Maryland on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. The tournament, hosted by Indiana, will be broadcast on Big Ten Network.

Admittedly, I’m no expert on Iowa baseball. But the Hawkeyes (34-19) appear to be peaking at the right time. They’re 11-4 over their last 15 games.

If you need a Hawkeye fix and can’t wait until the football team opens its season Sept. 6 vs. Wyoming, you could do a lot worse than Hawkeye baseball. They’ve made runs deep into the Big Ten Tourney before under coach Rick Heller and look ready to do it again.

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If you’ve been following Iowa baseball this year you already know this. If not, here’s the drill:

Jake Adams has so far hit 24 homers this year to set a new school record. The previous record of 22, held by John Knapp, stood for 30 years.

Adams is tied for second most in the NCAA this season, one behind Eastern Kentucky’s Ben Fisher, who has hit 25.

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Iowa’s recent success in baseball makes me long for softball’s return to the national stage.

Between 1995-2001, the Hawkeyes reached the College World Series four times. They’ve won a couple of Big Ten Tournaments, too. The last title came in 2003.

But Iowa softball finished this season 19-32. It’s their fourth straight losing season.

So, what gives? How has one of the nation’s premier programs fallen so far? Is it improved Big Ten competition? Is it the players? The facilities? Are the stars not properly aligned?

Or is there some other reason?

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Last week CBS Sports ranked Big Ten football teams by their 2017 projected strength of schedule.

The Hawkeyes ranked eighth, which was surprising. I thought they’d be ranked worse.

Tom Fornelli, however, made a smart case for why the Hawkeyes ranked as high as they did. Although their non-conference slate is weak on paper – Wyoming, Iowa State, North Texas – the Hawkeyes will face a severe Big Ten schedule.

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In the Big Ten West, Iowa has to go on the road against Nebraska, Northwestern and Wisconsin. Their cross-division games include Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State.

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Thursday afternoon in Moline, Illinois, just a few miles beyond the Iowa border, Edwardsville High School senior and top Hawkeye recruit A.J. Epenesa qualified for next weekend’s Illinois state track and field meet by winning sectional championships in shot put and discus.

The winning discus toss by Epenesa, who’ll play on the defensive line, flew 181 feet, 9 inches – more than 15 feet beyond the second-place qualifier at the sectional.

Epenesa’s discus toss would have been good enough to win a Class 4A state championship in the state of Iowa, but it would have taken second in Class 3A, where Mount Vernon High School’s Tristan Wirfs threw 190 feet, 10 inches.

Wirfs has also committed to the Hawkeyes for football. He’ll play on the offensive line. One can only imagine Iowa track and field director Joey Woody next fall staring longingly through the windows of Iowa football’s practice facility at Epenesa and Wirfs, slipping “Call me!” notes into the pages of their textbooks.

* Talk with David Schwartz on Twitter @daveschwartz.

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