HawkeyeReport - Statement Weekend for Iowa Baseball
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Statement Weekend for Iowa Baseball

Izaya Fullard and the Hawkeyes have a huge series this weekend against Rutgers.
Izaya Fullard and the Hawkeyes have a huge series this weekend against Rutgers.

Statement Weekend.

That’s what Izaya Fullard calls the upcoming weekend for the Hawkeyes in Piscataway.

“This is what you play college baseball for. Opportunities like this, big games like this,” said Fullard. “Going into a series like this, we can really make a statement.”

The opportunity that awaits, is a series against the 31-7 Rutgers Scarlet Knights. They come into the weekend winning 17 of their last 18 games and sit atop the Big Ten Standings at 11-1.

“Everyone is excited. Arguably the biggest weekend of the year for us,” said Ben Tallman. “Rutgers is playing well and on a win streak, but our confidence is in us, our faith is in us and we’re going to bet on ourselves every time.”

Coach Rick Heller will send redshirt sophomore Adam Mazur to the mound to face the Scarlet Knights on Friday and he is looking to build off a great outing against Minnesota. Mazur went a career-high 8.0 innings, allowing three runs on six hits, while striking out 11 Gophers and walking none. Heller called Mazur’s stuff “first round level” after that outing and Adam is trying to carry that into this week.

“Stick to the process. Keep your head down and just take it day by day,” said Mazur. “Got to trust the game plan that we come up with and start attacking hitters from the first pitch. Getting ahead is going to be key this weekend.”

Adam says that the routine stays the same no matter the opponent and working with a pitching coach like Robin Lund, you know that you will have an in-depth scouting report that you can use to attack whatever lineup the opponent throws at you.

“Honestly, just got to treat it like it’s any other game because at the end of the day that’s what it is,” said Mazur. “He (Robin Lund) has a lot of great insight, and he knows what he’s talking about. He goes into great detail with every scouting report…When he’s calling pitches, he knows every little detail about every guy. It’s very reassuring as a pitcher.”

The Iowa pitching staff will have their hands full with a Rutgers lineup that is in the top 10 in batting average, hits and runs. That means on top of the starting pitchers, the Hawkeyes will need good outings from the bullpen arms that are called on. Over the weekend against Minnesota, the bullpen held the Gophers scoreless over 11.1 innings. Catcher Ben Tallman feels that the bullpen is beginning to turn things around and are in much better shape than they were a couple weeks ago.

“Bullpen has made a huge turnaround. They were super good early and went through a little phase where they went a couple steps back,” said Tallman. “Huge confidence thing for our guys out of the ‘pen. The last few outings were a huge step forward…Big week for our bullpen and we’re definitely going to need them.”

The injection of Dylan Nedved back into the group has given the Hawkeyes bullpen the calming presence they have needed. Nedved threw 5.0 scoreless innings over the weekend against Minnesota and Tallman says it’s good to have him back in that role.

“Dylan is one of those guys that you give him the ball at any time of the game and he’s tough as nails,” said Tallman. “Getting him back in the bullpen and having his veteran presence in there calming down the newer guys is huge for us.”

At the plate, the Hawkeye bats have been hitting the ball all over the place, including 24 runs in the last ten innings, ranging back the late innings of the Sunday game against Minnesota. They’ve racked up 23 hits and scored in nine of the last ten innings played. They are looking to carry that confidence into the weekend against a good Rutgers pitching staff.

“From our lead-off guy to the nine spot, I think everyone in the lineup is confident. We’ve had a bunch of different guys come on and really start picking it up offensively,” said Tallman. “I think one through nine we’re a serious problem…A good time for us offensively and at the right time going into a big weekend.”

Peyton Williams, Ben Tallman, Keaton Anthony and Will Mulflur have been hitting the ball well lately, as has Izaya Fullard, who has played in 11 games since returning to the lineup. The redshirt senior is batting .306, with 15 hits and has struck out just seven times in 57 trips to the plate (12.2%). Fullard feels like he is starting to settle in at the plate, as he racks up more and more at bats.

“It’s taking a little bit of time, but I think I’m seeing pitches well. Swinging at the pitches I should be, and I think it’s going to click at a certain point,” said Fullard. “It was different (joining the lineup mid-season). Never had to do anything like it…I knew when I had the surgery that that was going to be the case. I was ready for that challenge.”

Izaya’s veteran leadership will be big this weekend, as this is arguably the biggest set of games the Hawkeyes have faced since the 2019 season. Due to Covid shortening the last couple of seasons, there really hasn’t been a “big game” feeling since the 2019 Big Ten Tournament. Fullard is one of just five players on the current team that also played on the 2019 team.

“This is the first real regular season that most of these guys have played in. I think it’s really just taking it one game at a time,” said Fullard.

Despite all the transfers and young guys on the roster, the Hawkeyes have had many of them step up and now they are ready for their toughest test yet.

It’s an Iowa ball club that is gaining confidence both at the plate and on the mound. The offense is producing runs, the bullpen has shown signs of settling down and the starting pitching has been solid for a good portion of the season. If it all comes together this weekend, the Hawkeyes will be in position to compete for a series win with a very tough Rutgers team and they can change their NCAA Tournament hopes with a couple of wins.