Road to Omaha: Houston Regional

After a inspired run through the Big Ten Tournament, the Iowa Hawkeyes are back in the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years. Although Rick Heller guided Iowa to 38 wins, the Big Ten’s automatic bid was the only way the Hawkeyes could reach the field of 64. Finishing in a tie for fourth in conference play, Iowa hopes their great postseason play continues as the fourth-seed in the Houston Regional, a four-team field with three teams from the Lone Star State. Here’s a look at what Iowa is up against in Houston, Baylor and Texas A&M.

The teams

#1 Houston

Record: 40-19, 15-9 in American Athletic; champions and tournament champions

Head coach: Todd Whitting, seventh season

NCAA Tournament history: 21st appearance, last in 2015

Offense: .290 AVG, 92 2B, 25 3B, 52 HR, .445 SLG, 364 SO, 254 BB, .386 OBP, 80-97 SB-SBA

Pitching: 3.37 ERA, 11 SV, 520.2 IP, 134 BB, 420 SO, 1.25 WHIP, 99 2B, 5 3B, 37 HR, .258 BAA, 20 WP, 378 HBP

Defense: .971 fielding percentage, 17 passed balls, 57 stolen bases allowed, 24 caught stealing

Noteworthy: Houston enters the NCAA Tournament without a potential first-round draft pick in Seth Romero. A junior left-handed pitcher, Romero racked up 85 strikeouts in 48.2 innings. But a second suspension this season was a final one as the talented but trouble-plagued southpaw is no longer in the program. The Cougars have handled the blow thanks to Trey Cumbie’s 1.88 ERA in 96 innings, with only 13 walks and a .226 batting average against.

#2 Baylor

Record: 34-21, 12-12 in Big XII; fourth place

Head coach: Steve Rodriguez, second year

NCAA Tournament history: 19th tournament appearance, first since 2012

Offense: .296 AVG, 100 2B, 14 3B, 49 HR, .445 SLG, 349 SO, 230 BB, .382 OBP, 22-40 SB-ATT

Pitching: 4.28 ERA, 13 SV, 483.2 IP, 240 BB, 424 SO, 1.53 WHIP, 84 2B, 10 3B, 43 HR, .272 BAA, 21 WP, 31 HBP

Defense: .973 fielding percentage, two passed balls, 32 stolen bases allowed, 32 caught stealing

Noteworthy: Baylor is pretty comfortable with this regional field. A week after taking down Texas A&M, 6-3, to end the Shriners Hospitals for Children College Classic in Houston’s Minute Maid Park, Baylor played host to Houston in Waco, taking two of three games from the Cougars. With their spot in the Houston Regional, Baylor is one of three Power Five schools to earn a bowl game/NCAA postseason appearance in football, men’s basketball, women’s basketball, baseball and softball, joining Florida State and Kentucky.

#3 Texas A&M

Record: 36-21, 16-12 in SEC; fourth in SEC West

Head coach: Rob Childress 12th season,

NCAA Tournament history: 19th appearance, last in 2016

Offense: .277 AVG, 96 2B, 20 3B, 45 HR, .419 SLG, 364 SO, 221 BB, .364 OBP, 56-84 SB-SBA

Pitching: 3.25 ERA, 12 SV, 502 IP, 186 BB, 491 SO, 1.26 WHIP, 99 2B, 5 3B, 31 HR, .235 BAA, 46 WP, 44 HBP

Defense: .975 fielding percentage, 17 passed balls, 44 stolen bases allowed, 24 caught stealing

Noteworthy: A 16-12 showing in the SEC is usually good enough to lead to something a bit better than a three-seed in a tough regional. But the Aggies 2-8 showing to finish the regular season curtailed a bit of what could have been in a better tournament placement. Texas A&M is led by freshman shortstop Braden Shewmake, a potential Freshman of the Year candidate, after a .344-11-67 season with 17 doubles and 11 stolen bases.

#4 Iowa

Record: 38-20, 15-9 in Big Ten; fourth

Head coach: Rick Heller, fourth season

NCAA Tournament history: Fifth appearance, last in 2015

Offense: .283 AVG, 108 2B, 8 3B, 69 HR, .450 SLG, 395 SO, 258 BB, .377 OBP, 62-92 SB-SBA

Pitching: 4.40 ERA, 14 SV, 517.2 IP, 215 BB, 453 SO, 1.52 WHIP, 93 2B, 17 3B, 36 HR, .288 BAA, 48 WP, 36 HBP

Defense: .979 fielding percentage, five passed balls, 38 stolen bases allowed, 20 caught stealing

Noteworthy: Though they did steal a bid, it’s hard to view Iowa as the typical four seed, after all, the Big Ten did place five teams in a regional and the Hawkeyes finished in a tie for fourth, a game and a half behind Nebraska for the conference title. Either way, Iowa is in and do so playing their best baseball, winning 15 of their final 20 games including the Big Ten Tournament.

Three keys to Hawkeye success

Adams stays within himself

Iowa first baseman Jake Adams enters the NCAA Tournament tied for the nation’s lead with 27 home runs. Setting s new Big Ten single-season record, Adams finished the Big Ten Tournament with a bang, hitting a homer in the semifinal win against Minnesota and two in the title game versus Northwestern. But before the trio of home runs, Adams scuffled in Bloomington, perhaps trying too hard to hit a home run during a week where the ball was jumping out of Bart Kaufman Field. Though Iowa will be seeing a three teams for the time this season, unless you’re living under a rock, you know who Jake Adams is. Opponents will be careful when pitching to the slugger, he may need to take what is giving to him.

Erickson continues storybook finish

Iowa senior left-handed pitcher Ryan Erickson returned to school after a poor showing in last year’s 2016 Big Ten Tournament title game. Falling one game shy of a second consecutive NCAA Tournament, Erickson played a big role in getting the Hawkeyes back into a regional with his strong showing against Nebraska in the Big Ten Tournament. With each outing potentially his last, the former walk-on has the ability to continue a fantasy ending to his career with another strong outing, leading Iowa to even green pastures. But, outside of the feel-good story, it’s imperative Erickson goes long into his start. Iowa can expect a good outing from Nick Gallagher, but after that, the Hawkeyes are short on pitching. If Iowa can get a win behind Erickson, without using too much of their bullpen, it’ll set up nicely for a big weekend when the Hawkeyes can get by with one game of Johnny Wholestaff.

Keep it rolling

Every season there’s a team with the right chemistry that makes an unexpected run, looking as if they’re having more fun than anyone could have playing baseball. That’s Iowa. In appearing in the Springfield Regional championship two years ago, the Hawkeyes know how to handle themselves in a regional. As they take the field without being in awe, the Hawkeyes can be loose, have fun and do everything to keep their run going.

Required reading

Iowa baseball looks to open eyes nationally against Texas trio -Richard Dean, Cedar Rapids Gazette

5 players to watch at UH regional -Joseph Duarte, Houston Chronicle

The story behind each of Jake Adams’ 27 home runs -Dargan Southard, Iowa City Press-Citizen

Zach Mackey calls Hawkeyes’ baseball games like an old pro -Scott Dochterman, Landof10

Bears looking to do some boot-scooting through Houston Regional -Brice Cherry, Waco Tribune

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