Last weekend Iowa headed on the road to face Northwestern -- and came away with their first Big Ten series loss of the year, dropping their final two games against a Northwestern with a toxic RPI. So there was some concern about facing a Nebraska team that entered the weekend at 5-1-1 in the Big Ten and having won nine of their previous 11 games. Naturally Iowa took the first two games from the Cornhuskers to win the series, before coming up short in their bid for a sweep in a wild game on Sunday.
FRIDAY: IOWA 7, NEBRASKA 6
Iowa opened the series with a wild win in extra innings. The Hawkeyes had a 1-0 lead after the first thanks to Jake Adams' Big Ten-leading 14th home run of the season in the first inning. They led 3-1 after three innings thanks to a Chris Whelan 2-run homer in the third inning. But Nebraska took the lead with a 4-run fourth inning to go up 5-3. Iowa's Friday starter was their nominal ace, Nick Gallagher, but while he's been excellent for most of this season, he struggled against the Cornhuskers. He lasted just 3.1 innings and gave up five runs (three earned) on four hits and five (!) walks, while striking out just three. For context, he had walked just eight batters total in his previous seven starts. That loss of control was very out of character for him; hopefully it was just a one-game aberration.
Iowa used the long ball to tie the game in the sixth inning, with Tyler Cropley mashing a three-run homer to even up the score at 6-6. Neither team could get any runs in the final three innings, though both had their chances -- Nebraska left two men on in the bottom of the sixth and the bottom of the eighth, while Iowa left two men on in the top of the sixth (after tying the game up) and had the bases loaded in the top of the ninth but weren't able to get a run. Fortunately, they used some old-fashioned #Hellerball in the top of the 10th to get the winning run -- Cropley led off by getting hit by a pitch, then advanced to second on an Austin Guzzo bunt. He advanced to third on a Matt Hoeg groundout and scored on a Mitchell Boe single. Nick Nelson and Josh Martsching combined to shut out Nebraska in the final 4.1 innings of the game, giving up just two hits and a walk, while striking out seven combined. Adams led the way for Iowa's bats with a 3/5 performance including the aforementioned home run. Whelan and Robert Neustrom each had two-hit games, while Tyler Cropley had just one hit, but it was a big one (that 3-run homer).
SATURDAY: IOWA 5, NEBRASKA 3
On Saturday, Iowa fell behind 1-0 after the second, but bounced back with two runs in the fourth to take a 2-1 lead, then responded with three runs in the seventh to take a 5-2 lead, which was enough to get the win. Ryan Erickson gave Iowa a strong pitching performance, going six innings and giving up three runs (two earned) on six hits and two walks while striking out five. Shane Ritter got a three-inning save in relief of Erickson, giving up three hits and two walks while striking out one in those three innings.
Adams had another strong game at the plate, going 2/4 with two doubles and two RBI. Neustrom also had two doubles and went 2/5 and Whelan went 2/4.
SUNDAY: NEBRASKA 8, IOWA 6
The series finale was a helter-skelter game where Iowa battled back multiple times -- but immediately gave up runs every time they had managed to claw their way back into the game. Iowa went down 2-0 after the first inning and 3-0 after the third, then tied the game at 3-3 in the top of the sixth... only to immediately give up two runs in the bottom of the sixth to go down 5-3. They got a run in the seventh and two in the eighth to go up 6-5... only to immediately give up three runs in the eighth to go back down 8-6. Iowa had the top of the lineup at the plate in the ninth and got a man on base (via an Adams double), but they weren't able to mount yet another comeback.
Sunday's game was a patchwork pitching effort, with decidedly mixed results. Cole McDonald started and went three innings, giving up three runs (two earned) on five hits and two walks, while striking out one. Elijah Wood replaced him and also lasted three innings, giving up two runs on three hits and a walk, while striking out one. Nick Nelsen followed him and lasted just 1.1 innings, giving up two runs on two hits. Martsching and Zach Daniels finished up the game, each pitching 0.1 innings, with Martsching giving up one run on one hit and striking out one while Daniels gave up no runs and struck out one. Overall, it was not a stellar effort from the Iowa staff, as evidenced by the eight runs conceded on 12 hits and three walks.
Adams was again one of Iowa's top hitters, with a 2/5 effort and two doubles. Neustrom also went 2/5 and had two RBI, while Matt Hoeg went 2/4 with two RBI. Five other Hawkeyes got at least one hit and the offense wasn't too much to blame for the loss -- they had six runs on 11 hits -- although they did strand seven men on base.
With the 2-1 weekend, Iowa improved to 22-12 on the season, 5-4 in the Big Ten. They're tied with Michigan State for fifth in the Big Ten, behind Minnesota (7-2), Maryland (9-3), Michigan (6-3), and Nebraska (5-3-1). More importantly, they continued Iowa's recent trend of dominance over Nebraska in multiple sports.
Dating back to 2014, Iowa has won 20 of last 23 games against Nebraska in football, MBB, WBB, baseball, and wrestling. #ProgramAssessment
— RossWB (@RossWB) April 16, 2017
After Sunday's loss that stat is 20 wins out of 24 games in those sports... which is still pretty damn dominant. And hey, don't just rely on my word -- Nebraska fans are saying it, too.
Flakes: Iowa Is Better Than Nebraska At Nearly Everything https://t.co/OjxES2Gcan
— CornNation (@CornNation) April 17, 2017
To quote Hall of Famer Kurt Angle, "Oh, it's true, it's DAMN TRUE." And, damn, it feels good. Nebraska entered the Big Ten six years ago with visions of dominance over the new big, slow conference-mates and particularly had little time for any sort of "rivalry" with Iowa, a team they barely deigned to recognize. In hindsight, maybe they were right all along -- it's not much of a rivalry if one team just keeps whipping the hell out of the other year after year.
It feels particularly sweet to beat Nebraska in football and baseball, two sports a) the Cornhusker faithful care about and b) they expected to dominate in the dumb and plodding Big Ten. Iowa's won three of four over the Huskers in football, including a win to wrap up a 12-0 regular season in 2015 (the last time Nebraska was 12-0 was 1997) and has appeared in just as many Big Ten Championship Games as Nebraska (BONUS: Iowa wasn't utterly embarrassed in their title game appearance, either). They've won seven of nine from Nebraska in baseball dating back to 2014, which is a tidy little run of success, too. Long may this Iowa run of success over Nebraska continue.
NEXT: Iowa wraps up their road trip with a visit to Bradley (11-18 overall, 4-3 at home) on Wednesday (8 PM). Iowa beat Bradley 12-1 in Iowa City earlier this year.