By JOHN BOHNENKAMP
Will Mulflur was just glad to be back in the lineup.
The Iowa utility player, who had just seven at-bats this season heading into last weekend’s three-game Big Ten series with Ohio State, found himself in the starting lineup for Saturday’s game at Duane Banks Field.
All Mulflur did was go 2-for-4 with a home run in the 15-3 win, and followed that with a 1-for-3 outing in Sunday’s 5-2 loss.
Mulflur, who is on the Burlington Bees’ roster for this summer’s Prospect League schedule, finally got a chance to hit after battling with a back injury for most of the season.
“It felt great,” Mulflur said. “I’ve been waiting for the opportunity for a while to kind of crack back (into the lineup), try to help out.”
Mulflur, who hit .268 with the Hawkeyes last season, had appeared in just six games this season before this weekend, going 0-for-7 with two walks. But coach Rick Heller, looking for someone to fill in a spot in the lineup with Keaton Anthony out indefinitely, turned to Mulflur on the warmest day of the season so far.
“That’s good coaching,” Heller said, laughing. “He was my pick to click, and I write the lineup out.
“We’ve been wanting to get Will integrated into the offense. He’s been fighting the bad back most of the season. And the cold weather is really tough on him — there have been days when you could tell he wasn’t feeling it. He really is a good, mature teammate who will tell you how he feels.”
But Heller knew on Saturday that Mulflur was ready.
“I watched him in (batting practice) today and on his last swing he hit one over the hawk (logo) in left field,” Heller said. “I could tell he was moving pretty good today.”
Mulflur’s home run came off Ohio State reliever Nolan Clegg in the fourth inning, part of a 19-hit day for the Hawkeyes. His other hit was an eighth-inning single.
“I felt like I saw the ball well today,” Mulflur said. “Just tried to stick to my plan, do everything I’ve been doing since I was 12 years old. Hit some balls hard, and that felt good.”
Heller stuck with Mulflur again on Sunday. Mulflur reached base in the fourth inning when he was hit by a pitch, and singled to lead off the sixth inning.
“He’s a good hitter,” Heller said. “A good, solid hitter. An older guy with some maturity and experience.”
Mulflur, a junior who grew up in Mercer Island, Washington, played one season at Tacoma Community College before transferring to Iowa.
When he joins the Bees, it will be his second summer-league season. He played last year in the West Coast League, a league in the Northwest with teams in the United States and Canada.
“The travel was a little weird, because you were always crossing the border between the U.S. and Canada,” said Mulflur, who hit .265 in 28 games with Port Angeles. “It was good, they’ve got a lot of great Pac-12 pitchers out there. It’s a pitcher-heavy league. It’s a good competition league, and I think the Prospect League will probably be the same.”
Mulflur isn’t sure when he’ll join the Bees, whose season opens May 31. The Hawkeyes are contenders for an NCAA tournament bid, and Mulflur wants to take some time to rest his back after Iowa’s season ends.
For now, he’s glad to be a part of Iowa’s run.
“It’s just sticking with the same approach every day,” Mulflur said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re pinch-hitting in the eighth inning or starting, you’ve got to be ready to hit. You have to have your scouting report and your information. It was just staying ready, trusting my eyes, trusting that I’ve done this before and if I stick to my plan, things will work out.”
Photo: Iowa’s Will Mulflur (42) celebrates after his two-run home run in Saturday’s win over Ohio State. (Jerod Ringwald/hawkeyesports.com)