PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. – Rick Heller said on media day earlier this month that pitching would be a strength for the Iowa baseball team this season.
It certainly was in Friday's season opener against Kent State as sophomore Jack Dreyer made a successful return from an injury that caused him to miss almost all of last season.
The southpaw from Johnston allowed just one hit and zero runs over five innings, and had eight strikeouts as Iowa edged Kent State 3-1 in the much-anticipated season opener.
Friday's game was one of three that Iowa will play in the Snowbird Classic in Port Charlotte. Iowa will face Saint Joseph's at 4 p.m. on Saturday and Pittsburgh at noon on Sunday.
Iowa took advantage of two Kent State errors in the eighth inning to score an insurance run, expanding the lead to 3-1.
Senior Grant Leonard then lived up to his reputation as one of the top closers in college baseball by allowing no runs and recording two strikeouts in the ninth inning. Leonard set a school record with 14 saves last season.
Drew Irvine, Ben Beutel and Trenton Wallace also were strong in relief as Iowa only allowed five hits overall.
Heller's optimism about his pitching stems from having 11 pitchers, including two-thirds of Iowa's rotation, returning from last season.
He felt that Iowa was strong in all areas of its pitching, and that was certainly the case in Friday's season opener as the starter, middle relievers and closer all performed well.
They battled wth some control issues, but still kept the Kent State batters in check for the most part.
"I'm happy with how we played in our first outing," Heller said. "We got good pitching from some guys that maybe had to fight through some control issues and got out of it. I really like to see that, how we battled. There was was no panic at any point in time today.
"Offensively, we did just enough."
Sophomore Brendan Sher hit a chopper over the third baseman's head for Iowa's first hit and base runner of the game in the third inning. He also stretched it into a double and then score's the game first run on a wild pitch.
Sher had advanced to third on a long fly ball by junior Dylan Nedved.
Sher also scored Iowa's second run of the game in the fifth inning on an RBI single by senior Ben Norman. Sher had led off the inning with a walk.
Senior catcher Austin Martin had two of Iowa's five hits overall.
Iowa is on a mission to make the NCAA Tournament this season after failling short in each of the past two seasons under Heller, who is in his seventh season as head coach.
Iowa suffered from a rash of injuries at pitcher last season, and that eventually took a toll as some of the arms grew tired down the stretch.
But now all the pitchers are healthy and their potential was on display in Friday's season opener.