Iowa baseball entered last week knowing that they had a massive opportunity to record some big wins to improve their NCAA Tournament resume, which was crucial for a team on the at-large bubble. The rest of Iowa's schedule doesn't offer many opportunities to boost their stock (six games against Big Ten bottom-feeders Northwestern and Penn State is only going to hurt their RPI), so taking advantage of those big win opportunities was vital. And while the week started out on a rough note, with Iowa blowing multiple leads in a 17-16 slugfest loss to Missouri and a loss to Oklahoma State in the series opener, Iowa rebounded with two emphatic wins to take the series over Oklahoma State, boosting their RPI to 50 and giving them some quality wins to add to their NCAA Tournament resume.
In consecutive weeks Iowa has taken series wins from the Big Ten leaders (Michigan) and the Big 12 leaders (Oklahoma State) -- that's not too shabby at all. The weekend wins over Oklahoma State improved Iowa's record to 28-16 overall. They remain 9-7 in Big Ten play, but they've moved up to 6th place in the conference standings thanks to results elsewhere in the league.
FRIDAY: #17 OKLAHOMA STATE 7, IOWA 6
The Oklahoma State series ended well for Iowa this weekend, but it started on a rough note. Nick Allgeyer, Iowa's best pitcher this season, was on the mound for the Hawks, but he got lit up a bit by Okie State -- they took a 6-0 lead through three innings and Iowa was never quite able to crawl back from that. Okie State got a solo home run in the first inning to go up 1-0, but the real damage came in the third when they scored five runs on five hits -- and one very costly error by Kyle Crowl. Iowa clawed back a run in the bottom of the third thanks to an RBI double from Robert Neustrom, but Okie State added another solo home run to go up 7-1 in the fourth. Iowa had their best offense of the game in the bottom of the fourth, scoring five runs on a 2-RBI double from Chris Whelan and a 3-run homer from Tyler Cropley. That cut Oklahoma State's lead to 7-6, but Iowa could get no closer. They had chances -- two on and no outs in the fifth, two on and two outs in the sixth, runner at second and one out in the eighth -- but they couldn't convert any of those opportunities into actual runs.
Allgeyer had his roughest outing of the season, giving up seven runs (six earned) on nine hits and one walk, while striking out nine. The error hurt, although batters were also getting more solid contact against Allgeyer's pitches than we've been accustomed to seeing this season. That said, even with his struggles, Allgeyer still managed to go six innings, which was vital for an Iowa staff dealing with several injuries and he kept things largely under control after that disastrous third inning. Nick Nelsen and Zach Daniels pitched well for Iowa in relief, combining for three scoreless hittings and giving up just one hit and one walk while striking out four.
At the plate Iowa recorded eight hits and drew seven walks, but could only convert that production into six runs. Iowa's best hitters came up big in this game: Chris Whelan went 2/3 with a double, two runs scored, and two RBI while also drawing two walks; Robert Neustrom went 2/5 with two doubles and an RBI; and the red-hot Tyler Cropley went 1/2 with a three-run homer and also drew three walks. Grant Judkins, Mitchell Boe, and Ben Norman recorded Iowa's other hits in the game.
SATURDAY: IOWA 16, #17 OKLAHOMA STATE 14
On Tuesday Iowa scored 16 runs in an improbably losing effort against Missouri; on Saturday they again scored 16 runs, this time in a winning effort over Oklahoma State. This game was by far the wildest of the weekend with runs in all but one inning (the second), 28 combined runs, two ties, and three lead changes. Iowa had a counter-punch for every Okie State shot in this game, though, and got a surge at the end of the game to put them over the top.
Robert Neustrom was 3-5 and drove in five runs Saturday including a pair of long balls. Neustrom and the Hawkeyes against the Cowboys in the series finale at 11:35 a.m. today at Banks Field. pic.twitter.com/D0SH7IarmS
— Iowa Baseball (@UIBaseball) May 6, 2018
The Cowboys got on the board first with a 3-run first inning, but Iowa immediately answered back with three runs in the bottom of the frame thanks to an Austin Guzzo RBI single, a sacrifice fly from Matt Hoeg, and a Guzzo steal of home. Okie State got two more in the third to go up 5-3, but Iowa responded right away with a solo homer from Robert Neustrom and a 2-RBI double from Kyle Crowl that gave Iowa their first lead of the game, 6-5. That lead was short-lived, as Oklahoma State put together their best inning of the game to score six runs and retake the lead, 11-6. Iowa just kept chipping away, though, cutting the lead to 11-8 on Matt Hoeg's 2-RBI double in the bottom of the fourth and to 11-9 when Crowl scored off a wild pitch in the fifth. Oklahoma State got another run in the seventh to go up 12-9, but Iowa kept coming. Neustrom got an RBI single to cut the lead to 12-10 in the bottom of the seventh, before Hoeg got the hit of the game for Iowa with a bases-clearing double that gave Iowa a 13-12 lead. Neustrom added a 3-run homer for some insurance runs in the eighth -- and those insurance runs proved vital when Oklahoma State got a pair of solo home runs in the ninth. But they got no closer than 16-14 and Iowa recorded yet another a big win in a chaotic game. Seriously, just look at the scoring summary for this game:
As you'd expect after a 16-14 game, there were heroes aplenty in the Iowa lineup in this game. (And in the Oklahoma State lineup for that matter -- they had four guys with multi-hit games, including Michael Neustifter, who was absolutely molten -- 4/5 with two doubles, a home run, and six RBI.) Kyle Crowl went 4/4 at the plate (and got hit by a pitch in the one at-bat he didn't record a hit) with a double and scored three runs. Robert Neustrom went 3/5 with two home runs, three runs scored, and five RBI in a battering performance. Matt Hoeg went 2/4 with two doubles and six RBI, including that crucial 3-RBI double that gave Iowa the lead in the bottom of the seventh. Chris Whelan went 1/3 and Tyler Cropley went 1/4, but each scored three runs (Whelan got hit by pitches twice and drew a walk, while Cropley also got hit by a pitch and drew a walk). Austin Guzzo went 1/2 but drew three walks and scored four runs. Lorezno Elion went 1/3 and Luke Farley went 1/2 with a double. Mitchell Boe and Ben Norman were the only hitters in the starting lineup who failed to record a hit, but overall Iowa's hitters took great advantage of their opportunities at the plate on Saturday.
Matt Hoeg: 2-4 with 6 RBI and some clutch hitting in Iowa's 16-14 win. See you for Sunday's finale at 11:35 a.m. pic.twitter.com/x76QJ66VAs
— Iowa Baseball (@UIBaseball) May 5, 2018
It was a different story on the mound, where several Iowa hurlers struggled to slow down the Cowboys' own offensive assault. Brady Schanuel got the start, but he once again got roughed up, lasting just 3.2 innings and giving up nine runs (six earned) on six hits. Control was a problem again -- he had six walks, two wild pitches, and hit a batter, while striking out five. Short starts have been a consistent problem for Schanuel lately:
Schanuel lasts 3.2 innings. Fourth straight start he didnt make it out of the fourth inning. With McDonalds injury, Iowa really needs him to figure it out before the BTT. #Hawkeyes https://t.co/dMNeQdwlrH
— Jeremy Karll (@JeremyKarll) May 5, 2018
To their credit, the bullpen did settle things down for Iowa in this game for the most part. Derek Lieurance replaced Schanuel and gave up two runs on a hit, a walk, and a hit batter while getting just two outs, but Cam Baumann came in and gave up one run on three hits and a walk in 1.2 innings. Ben Probst and Nick Nelsen combined to give Iowa two scoreless innings in the seventh and eighth, giving up just one hit and one walk and striking out four batters. Zach Daniels uncharacteristically gave up two home runs in the ninth, but otherwise was able to lock things down and get the final three outs for Iowa.
SUNDAY: IOWA 11, #17 OKLAHOMA STATE 3
Iowa's bats stayed hot on Sunday, scoring 11 runs on 14 hits to ease to an 11-3 win and a much-needed series victory. The Hawkeyes got off to a perfect start with four runs in the first, thanks to a 2-RBI single from Tyler Cropley and a throwing error that allowed two more runners to score four batters later. Oklahoma State got on the board with a solo home run in the fourth, but otherwise their bats stayed very quiet. Iowa's bats also got quieter after that fast start in the first, but they were able to blow the game open in the seventh with six runs thanks to a combination of good hitting and a complete failure to find the strike zone from Okie State's pitchers. The inning started on a wonderfully weird note when Mitchell Boe was able to turn an outfield single into an inside the park home run thanks to an error from the OSU center fielder.
Mitchell Boe sprints around the bases. Just part of the excitement at Banks Field this weekend in an important series win! pic.twitter.com/SQpPii5Njq
— Iowa Baseball (@UIBaseball) May 6, 2018
Chris Whelan followed with a single, Robert Neustrom added a double, and Tyler Cropley walked to load the bases with no outs. Austin Guzzo struck out to record Iowa's first out of the inning, followed by Matt Hoeg lacing an RBI single to right field. Then things got goofy. Kyle Crowl got hit by a pitch, scoring a run. And then Tanner Wetrich, Justin Jenkins, and Mitchell Boe (up for the second time in the inning) drew back-to-back-to-back walks to score three more runs. Whelan grounded into a double play to end the inning for Iowa, but by then the damage was done -- they'd scored six runs on four hits, four walks, an error, and a hit batter to go up 10-1 in the game. Hoeg tacked on another run with an RBI single in the eighth and Oklahoma State managed two runs in the ninth, but Iowa had plenty of cushion with an 11-1 lead and turned it into a comfortable 11-3 win.
While the Iowa offense scored 11 runs (their third double-digit outing in their last four games), the story of the game may have been Iowa's pitching, which absolutely stifled a potent Oklahoma State offense (see: 21 runs in the first two games of the series). Pitching was a big question mark for Iowa entering Sunday's game, with regular Sunday starter Cole McDonald being forced to miss at least one week with elbow discomfort, but true freshman Jack Dreyer delivered in a big way in his first weekend start. Dreyer lasted five innings and gave up just one run on two hits, while walking three and striking out six. That was exactly the performance Iowa needed out of him in a big spot and he came through in impressive fashion. Grant Judkins replaced Dreyer and he also gave Iowa some good innings, lasting 3.2 innings and throwing three scoreless innings before getting into some trouble in the ninth and giving up two runs. In total he went 3.2 innings and gave up two runs on four hits and two walks, while striking out four. Nick Nelsen picked up the final out of the game for Iowa.
Freshman Jack Dreyer allowed just one run on a pair of hits while striking out six in five innings of work Sunday. pic.twitter.com/GLYuFlgXuK
— Iowa Baseball (@UIBaseball) May 6, 2018
Several Hawkeyes had strong days at the plate, with five guys recording multi-hit games. Robert Neustrom continued his torrid weekend with a 2/5 outing with two doubles and two runs scored. Overall he went 7/15 with three doubles, two home runs, and six RBI against Oklahoma State. Tyler Cropley went 3/4 with a double, three runs scored, and two RBI in the game, which contributed to a stellar 5/10 weekend (he also drew five walks) with a double and a home run. Chris Whelan went 2/5 and scored two runs, while Austin Guzzo also went 2/5. Justin Jenkins and Mitchell Boe each recorded as well and Matt Hoeg went 3/5 with two runs scored and two RBI, continuing a strong stretch of play for him too:
Matt Hoeg over Iowas last 6 games: 7-24 (.292), HR, 3 2B, 10 RBI
Thats against really good teams, too Michigan, Mizzou, Oklahoma State. #Hawkeyes
— Jeremy Karll (@JeremyKarll) May 6, 2018
Cropley, Neustrom, and Whelan have been Iowa's most potent hitters this season and they delivered this weekend, but Iowa's also been getting big performances from Hoeg and Guzzo, which is huge. Really, Iowa's been getting production up and down the lineup lately and if their bats can keep producing like this, they're going to be very tough to beat in the final few weeks of the season.
Iowa's big wins over the weekend earned them some well-deserved praise from college baseball pundits as well:
So, the Big 12 leader by several games is getting pummeled at #Iowa. Thats a rough weekend for that league.
— Kendall Rogers (@KendallRogers) May 6, 2018
Iowa closing in on a huge series win. Hawkeyes last week were the first team out of our Projected Field of 64. Won't be the case this week https://t.co/9SQ0uLMSh7
— Teddy Cahill (@tedcahill) May 6, 2018
The next step for Iowa is avoiding slip-ups in its remaining games against pretty bad Northwestern, Western Illinois, and Penn State teams -- they might be able to afford one loss to that group, but any more than that will undo a lot of the good work Iowa did this weekend. But we can worry about that next week -- for now we can just celebrate two great wins and a much-needed series triumph over a red-hot opponent.
NEXT: Iowa heads to Evanston to face Northwestern (14-28 overall, 4-17 B1G) for a weekend series (Friday-Sunday).