In preparation for the World University Games, Iowa baseball, otherwise known as Team USA, competed in the 83rd NBC World Series. Iowa was guaranteed three games in pool play but needed to be one of the top-two teams in its field – Wellington Heat, Mulvane Patriots and San Diego Waves were the other teams in its group – to advance to the quarterfinals. Even though Iowa held a lead at some point in every game, the leads did not last and Iowa ended up going 0-3.
While Rick Heller wanted to win, he was also trying to figure out his roster. Due to needing to replace Mason McCoy, Jake Adams, Nick Gallagher and Ryan Erickson, Heller fielded a lot of players. He used a different lineup in all three games, split time at shortstop between Tanner Wetrich and Lorenzo Elion, and had nine different pitchers took the mound. Also, only Kyle Shimp and Derek Lieurance pitched in more than one game. That said, he didn’t empty the bench and put in all his freshmen like we saw during Iowa’s exhibition games.
— Tim Shimp (@TimShimp) July 30, 2017
Team USA 3, Wellington (Kansas) Heat 7
Sometimes one bad inning is all it takes. Iowa’s implosion in the third inning, which resulted in five Wellington Heat runs, put the game out of reach early and ultimately led to Iowa’s 7-3 loss to start the NBC World Series.
Robert Neustrom stayed hot at the plate in the first inning when he drove in Tanner Wetrich on a one-out double to right field to give Iowa a 1-0 lead. Jason Jones, who went 1-for-1 with 4 walks, tied the game for Wellington in the second with a solo shot to left field in the second. Then disaster struck.
Despite only giving up two hits in 2.1 innings, Kyle Shimp was hindered by walks. He struggled to find the strike zone all night, resulting in five walks. After a fly out to start the inning, Shimp allowed a double and walked the next three batters before Rick Heller pulled him for Cole McDonald.
With the game seemingly on the line in the third inning, McDonald initially struggled. He gave up six straight singles, only getting an out when a Heat runner was thrown out trying to advance to third, before the Heat grounded out to Wetrich at shortstop to end the inning. McDonald allowed another run in the fourth inning, but he eventually got into a groove. He ended up pitching 4.2 innings for Iowa, giving up two earned runs on nine hits and two walks.
Iowa looked rattled after giving up a rare five-run inning, resulting in few scoring chances the rest of the game. Even though everyone except Ben Norman reached base against the Heat, the Hawkeyes couldn’t stage a comeback. Iowa scored two runs in the fourth inning when Kyle Crowl hit an RBI-single, scoring Tyler Cropley, and Mitchell Boe hit a sac fly a batter later to score Matt Hoeg. But that was it.
Despite Derek Lieurance pitching two shutout innings to end the game for Iowa, the Hawkeyes’ bats became quiet. They went down 1-2-3 five times in the last seven innings, including the final six Hawkeye batters striking out to end the game.
Team USA 4, Mulvane Patriots 5 (12 Innings)
Iowa’s second game at the NBC World Series gave us another chance to see Brady Schanuel pitch this summer. Despite only giving up two earned runs over four innings, and striking out five batters, Iowa fell to the Patriots, 5-4.
For a second straight game, the Hawkeyes struck first. Robert Neustrom hit an RBI-triple, scoring Ben Norman, to give Iowa a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first. After a single, walk, and throwing error on a pick-off attempt by Schanuel, the Patriots answered back in the second with a 2-RBI double of their own. Schanuel struggled with his command at times, giving up three walks, but he gave up no hits outside of a rough second inning.
Rick Heller relied heavily on his bullpen for a second straight game, too. This time he turned to Sammy Lizarraga for 4.1 innings of work. Lizarraga shutout the Patriots, striking out two and allowing just three hits and one walk. However, he was hindered by poor defense and Iowa’s stagnant offense. Iowa had 18 hitters bat between Neustrom’s RBI-triple in the first and a Tyler Cropley single in the sixth. Cropley eventually scored on an RBI-double by Matt Hoeg, and Kyle Crowl scored when Neustrom hit a RBI-double in the seventh, giving Iowa a 3-2 lead. But Lizarraga pitched with a one-run lead for almost his entire outing. Despite the extra pressure, Mulvane went down 1-2-3 against Lizarraga in three of four chances.
Mulvane tied the game, 3-3, in the ninth when Zach Daniels entered the game. After Lizarraga walked his final batter, Tanner Wetrich committed his second error of the game. His bad throw to first allowed the runner on first to score and put another runner in scoring position, resulting in Lorenzo Elion pinch-hitting for him in the bottom half of the inning.
With two outs in the top of the 10th, Mulvane’s Jarvis Larson hit a RBI-single to give the Patriots a 4-3 lead. Iowa answered, though. Crowl, who went 2-for-5, hit a leadoff double in the bottom of the 10th. After advancing to third on Tyler Cropley’s second hit of the game, Grant Judkins drove him home with a sacrifice fly. Following a shutout inning by Daniels, Judkins took the mound for the Hawkeyes in the 12th.
Mulvane quickly took back the lead, 5-4, when the Patriots started the inning hitting a double and RBI-single. It could have been worse, though, as Crowl, who moved to shortstop, committed Iowa’s fourth error of the game. Four errors, including three at shortstop, is extremely rare for a Heller-coached team and highlights how important Mason McCoy’s defense was for Iowa last season. Luckily, Judkins didn’t allow another hit.
With their hopes of advancing out of pool play on the line, Iowa didn’t go down easy. Norman, who went 2-for-3 with 3 walks, singled and Crowl was hit by a pitch to start the inning. After Neustrom flied out, Cropley was hit by a pitch to load the bases with Judkins coming to plate. Judkins hit an easy grounder to first base, though, which allowed Mulvane to get the force at home, and Matt Hoeg, who went 1-for-6, flied out to end the game.
— University of Iowa (@uiowa) July 31, 2017
Team USA 2, San Diego Waves 3
No matter the result, it was the end of the road for Iowa. Still, the Hawkeyes fought, as any Rick Heller-coached team will, and almost pulled off the most unlikely feat from a team whose pitching staff is evidently not its strong point. Despite 10 walks and an error, the Hawkeyes brought a no-hitter into the eighth inning before losing, 3-2, to the Waves.
For the first time in the tournament, the Hawkeyes didn’t score in the first inning. That made the bottom of the first very uncomfortable when Shane Ritter issued three straight walks with two outs. Luckily, he forced a groundout to Tanner Wetrich to end the inning. Iowa, just like in its first two games of the NBC World Series, struck first in the third inning. Ben Norman, who went 1-for-3 with two walks, singled to drive in Mitchell Boe to give Iowa a 1-0 lead. The Hawkeyes could have jumped out to an even bigger lead, though, as they had bases loaded with one out before Grant Judkins and Matt Hoeg, who combined to hit 1-for-8, each flew out to end the inning.
Iowa added to its lead an inning later, however. Designated hitter Brett McCleary singled to lead off the inning, Boe recorded his second single of the game and Norman walked to load the bases with one out. McCleary scored when Crowl grounded into a fielder’s choice, increasing Iowa’s lead, 2-0. Unfortunately, that was the last threat Iowa’s offense put together. The Hawkeyes went down 1-2-3 in each of the next three innings and didn’t record another hit after the fourth inning. Iowa’s only base runners the rest of the game came when Judkins reached on an error in the eighth and Norman walked in the ninth.
Everyone’s attention flipped to whether Iowa’s pitching staff could finish the no-hitter. In the fifth inning, Ritter, who ended his night with seven (!) walks in 4.1 innings pitched, walked the Waves’ first two batters. Wetrich, who committed two errors on Tuesday, committed another error at shortstop, scoring a run and ending the shutout. The no-hitter was still intact, though, when Kole Kampen, who missed all of 2017 with an injury, entered the game with the bases loaded and one out. He forced a double play to end the threat.
After a shutout sixth inning by Kampen, Kyle Shimp, who started in Iowa’s NBC opener, took the mound. He pitched a 1-2-3 seventh inning but was pulled for Derek Lieurance after walking San Diego’s leadoff batter in the eighth. Then, it happened.
Trevor Beard hit a little dribbler in front of the plate, resulting in a lack of communication between Lieurance and Tyler Cropley. Both looked at the ball, neither picked it up, and Beard was safe at first with the Waves’ first hit. After a sac bunt that moved the runners to second and third, Demitri Collacchio hit an RBI-groundout and Ross Messina followed with an RBI-single, giving San Diego a 3-2 lead. As previously mentioned, Iowa could not produce any offense in the top of the ninth. Lorenzo Elion pinch-hit for Wetrich for a second straight game but lined out to lead-off the inning.
As a team, Iowa struggled on all fronts at the NBC World Series. The Hawkeyes hit .185 with a .267 on-base percentage and no home runs, which was a strength all of last season. On the mound, Iowa struck out 17 batters, walked 22, and owned a 4.34 ERA and 1.67 WHIP. Also, four of Iowa's six errors came at shortstop. To put that in perspective, Mason McCoy committed nine errors in 340 chances last season and Iowa had the fourth best fielding percentage in the Big Ten, committing just 51 errors in 61 games. Expect Heller to make defense a focal point for improvement heading into the rest of the summer.
Iowa’s final game before the World University Games will be against the Quad City Cardinals at Duane Banks Field in Iowa City. First pitch will be at 7 p.m. on August 10.