Iowa 5, Western Illinois 4: Hawks Steal Win Late (Literally)

By RossWB on May 16, 2018 at 10:29 am
HOME SWEET STEAL OF HOME.

@UIBASEManagers

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On paper, Western Illinois -- 15-26 overall and with an RPI of 278 -- didn't look like much of a challenge for Iowa. But as the cliche goes, games aren't played on paper -- and Iowa found themselves in a tense battle with the Leathernecks on Tuesday. After digging themselves an early hole, Iowa managed to climb back and earn themselves a come-from-behind win by the skin of their teeth. But at this point a win's a win and it prevents Iowa from eating an RPI-damaging loss to a bad team -- we'll take it. 

As noted, Iowa had to come from behind in this one. Western Illinois went up 1-0 in the bottom of the first off an RBI groundout. They added three more runs in the third with a sacrifice fly and a 2-RBI single, digging Iowa a 4-0 hole with six innings to go. Things were not looking especially good for our heroes at that point. Iowa finally got on the board in the fifth, courtesy of a sacrifice fly from Robert Neustrom and a 2-RBI double from Tyler Cropley. That made the game 4-3 in favor of Western Illinois. A Justin Jenkins RBI single tied the game at 4-4 in the sixth, but Iowa couldn't find the go-ahead run.

Finally, in the top of the ninth they got the winning run -- and it was from a "normal" run. Ben Norman led off the inning with a single and Mitchell Boe got on base with a fielder's choice (that led to Norman being out at second). Boe moved to second on a groundout from Chris Whelan and advanced to third on a balk. Neustrom was intentionally walked and then stole second and Tyler Cropley also walked to load the bases for Luke Farley. And then Mitchell Boe stole home to score the winning run. Seriously: 

Madness. 

Iowa was able to grind out five runs on seven hits and six walks in this game; they would have had more runs (and a less nervy ending) if they could have scored some of the eight men they left on base in the game. Tyler Cropley went 2/4 with two doubles and two RBI, while Justin Jenkins also went 2/4 with a run scored and an RBI. Matt Hoeg and Ben Norman added hits, while Mitchell Boe went 1/3 with two runs scored and that crucial game-winning steal. In fact, Iowa was incredibly aggressive on the bases in this one -- they stole seven bases, led by Neustrom's three steals. Boe had two, while Cropley and Austin Guzzo had the other steals. Justin Jenkins was the only Hawkeye caught stealing. 

Kole Kampen was the surprise starter for Iowa in this game (he'd only made six previous appearances this season and no other starts), but as usual for an Iowa midweek game, the pitching was an all-hands-on-deck affair. Kampen went two innings and gave up one run on two hits and a walk while striking out two. Shane Ritter replaced him and he struggled, giving up three runs on one hit and a walk while recording no outs. Grant Leonard came in and saved the day for Iowa on the mound, throwing six shutout innings and giving up just two hits and no walks while striking out six. He kept Iowa in the game until their offense could finally come around. Zach Daniels came on to finish off the game in the ninth, but after inducing a groundout to start the inning, he gave up two straight walks. Nick Nelsen replaced him and got the final two outs, thanks in no small part to a very athletic play by Ben Norman in center field. 

The win improves Iowa's record to 30-18 on the season, 20-9 against non-conference opponents, and 9-10 on the road. They're sitting at 64th in the current RPI rankings, same as they were before the Western Illinois game. Wins in a three-game series against Penn State this weekend (235 RPI) isn't likely to improve that number any, but losses would certainly cause it dip further, which would be very bad news. 

Iowa securing their 30th win of the season yesterday means that Rick Heller has now won at least 30 games in all five of his seasons in charge of the program. By way of comparison, Heller's two predecessors as Iowa's manager, Jack Dahm and Scott Broghamer, combined for two seasons with 30 or more wins in their 16 years in charge. They had as many seasons with fewer than 20 wins (five) as Heller now has 30-win seasons. No matter what happens the rest of this season, the Iowa program is still absolutely in a better position than it's been since Duane Banks himself was running it. 

NEXT: The regular season finale -- three games at home against Penn State (15-31 overall, 3-18 B1G, 6-11 away). 

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