In men's basketball the Big Ten Tournament has been a house of horrors for Iowa for the last decade -- they've won just three games and posted a 3-10 record in the event. In the baseball version of the event, though, this have been much different. Iowa has won at least three games in each of the past two tournaments and posted an overall record of 9-6 since Rick Heller took over the program. In fact, Iowa has qualified for the Big Ten Tournament in each of Heller's five seasons in charge, after qualifying just three times in the preceding ten seasons.*
* That said, it's worth noting that the rules for qualification to the Big Ten Tournament also changed in 2014, Heller's first season in charge. Prior to that year, only the top-six teams in the league qualified for the tournament; from 2014 on, the top-eight teams have qualified for the tourney. Two of Heller's five qualifying teams (2014, 2016) made it as the #8 seed, meaning they wouldn't have qualified for the event under the pre-2014 standard.
The Big Ten Tournament has been the site of some of Iowa baseball's greatest moments in recent years, so let's look back at a few of them.
2015: Nick Day hits walk-off home run to beat Ohio State
2015 was the best regular season of Rick Heller era at Iowa -- Iowa went 38-14 overall and 19-5 in the Big Ten. They entered the tournament as a #2 seed, but things nearly went off the rails in their first game. Ohio State took a 2-1 lead in the eighth inning off a Pat Porter solo home run, backing Iowa into a corner. Iowa went three up and three down in the eighth and entered the ninth needing a run to tie and two to win. Things didn't look good when Nick Roscetti struck out to start the inning and Jimmy Frankos flew out to pick up the second out. Pinch hitter Eric Schenck-Joblinske drew a two-out walk, though, and then Nick Day came to the plate.
Days until the @B1Gbaseball tournament.
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) May 21, 2018
2016: Iowa stomps #1 seed Minnesota 8-2
Iowa scraped into the 2016 Big Ten Tournament by the skin of their teeth as the #8 seed at 12-12 after winning four of their final five Big Ten games and prevailing via tiebreakers over Illinois and Penn State. So, naturally, they pounded Minnesota, the top seed, in a 8-2 rout in the first game. Iowa jumped on the Gophers early with a 2-run double from Austin Guzzo in the first and three runs in the second to open up a 5-0 lead early. Minnesota got two back in the third to cut the lead to 5-2, but Iowa tacked on three more runs in the fifth to extend their lead to 8-2. With C.J. Eldred dealing on the mound -- he gave up two runs on six hits in seven innings, while walking two and striking out six -- that was more than enough run support for Iowa to get off to the perfect start in the Big Ten Tournament.
2016: Iowa beats Ohio State 5-4 in 10 innings
Iowa has played three-straight one-run thrillers against Ohio State in the Big Ten Tournament in recent years and this was the second of the trio. This one may have also been one of the most unlikely Iowa wins in recent memory -- if not ever. Ohio State went up 1-0 in the fourth, extended that lead to 3-0 in the fifth, and added an insurance run to make it 4-0 in the top of the ninth. Iowa, meanwhile, was hapless at the plate -- not only had they failed to score in the first eight innings, but they'd only registered two hits all game. But baseball is a nine-inning game and one good inning can wash away a lot of crappy innings -- which is exactly what Iowa did in the ninth inning of this game.
Iowa led off the inning with four straight singles from Tyler Peyton, Nick Roscetti, Joel Booker, and Mason McCoy to make it 4-1. The improbable comeback seemed like it would be soon snuffed out after that when Daniel Moriel hit into a double play on a double play that scored one run. Down to their final out, Iowa got an RBI single from Austin Guzzo to make it 4-3. Then Jimmy Frankos got hit by a pitch and little-used pinch hitter Devin Pickett got the biggest hit of his career to score Guzzo and make it 4-4 in a game Iowa had trailed 4-0 entering the ninth. An inning later an RBI single from Mason McCoy gave Iowa another walkoff win over Ohio State in the Big Ten Tournament, this one in one of the least likely comebacks you'll ever see.
2016: Iowa drills Maryland 11-0 to make Big Ten Tournament final
Walkoff wins are fun and full of drama, but there's something to be said for blowout wins, too. Iowa's unlikely run to the Big Ten Tournament finals in 2016 featured an 11-0 beatdown of Maryland in the tournament semifinals in a game where Iowa was clicking on all cylinders. This wasn't a blowout from the beginning, though -- it was tied 0-0 through three innings before Iowa scored three in the fourth. They made do with those three runs until blowing the game open in the eighth with five runs and following that up with three in the ninth. Joel Booker went 3/6 with two doubles and Robert Neustrom went 3/4 to lead an Iowa lineup that scored 11 runs on 14 hits, nine walks, and three Maryland errors. Iowa also got some dominant pitching from Shane Ritter, who started and threw three shutout innings, and Nick Gallagher, who replaced Ritter and threw six shutout innings, gving up just one hit and one walk while striking out nine Terps. Iowa's 2016 Big Ten Tournament run ended in heartbreak -- they lost an 8-7 thriller to Ohio State in the final -- but it featured some incredible action along the way.
2017: Iowa wins 9-8 thriller over Maryland
Like 2016, Iowa entered the 2017 Big Ten Tournament knowing that they needed to win the whole thing to book a trip to the NCAA Tournament. They did just that and their first win came in an absolute thriller over #5 seed Maryland. Iowa got off to a fast start with four runs in the second and two more in the third to go up 6-1, but the Terps battled back. They scored three in the third and three in the fourth to take a 7-6 lead after four. Robert Neustrom and Chris Whelan hit a homer apiece in the fifth and sixth innings to give Iowa an 8-7 lead, before Maryland tied it again in the seventh. Matt Hoeg gave Iowa their final lead with a sacrifice fly in the top of the ninth before Josh Martsching got the final three outs of the game in the bottom of the ninth. This game was supposed to be a pitcher's duel between Maryland's Brian Shaffer (All-Big Ten first team) and Iowa's Nick Gallagher (All-Big Ten second team), but instead it turned into a back-and-forth slugfest that featured three ties, three lead changes, six home runs, 27 hits, and 17 runs.
2017: Iowa blanks #21 Nebraska 2-0
A day after that wild offensive showcase, Iowa used lights-out pitching to win their second game of the 2017 Big Ten Tournament. A Chris Whelan homer and a Jake Adams RBI single gave Iowa their only two runs of the game, but those runs were enough as Ryan Erickson, Zach Daniels, and Josh Martsching teamed up for a shutout performance. Erickson went 7.2 innings and while he gave up 10 hits (and two walks), he kept Nebraska off the board with six strikeouts. Daniels gave up two hits and a walk while getting three outs in relief of Erickson, before Martsching closed the door on the Huskers with a strikeout to end the game. Iowa lived on the edge in this one -- Nebraska stranded 14 runners and went 1/8 with runners in scoring position in this game -- but sometimes you have to live dangerously.
2017: Iowa wins 13-inning 7-5 thriller over Minnesota
After losing 9-3 to Minnesota early in the day on Saturday, Iowa's margin of error in the 2017 Big Ten Tournament was officially removed. It was win or go home time for the Hawkeyes -- and they responded with a win in one of the wildest -- and longest -- games in Big Ten Tournament history. The game lasted 13 innings and a Big Ten Tournament record four hours and 57 minutes. Minnesota jumped on Iowa early with two runs in the first before Tyler Cropley answered back with a solo home run in the second. Minnesota got two more runs in the second, but Iowa again responded immediately with two runs in the third, including a Jake Adams solo home run that made it 4-3. Iowa took a 5-4 lead with a 2-run homer from Matt Hoeg in the fourth before the Gophers tied the game with an RBI single in the sixth. Both offenses struggled to find the potential winning run after that, though, with Minnesota stranding two runners in each of the sixth and seventh innings and Iowa stranding a runner in the ninth and two in the 10th. Minnesota stranded two again in their own half of the 10th before Iowa stranded two more in the 12th. Finally, in the 13th inning, Iowa got the breakthrough with another Tyler Cropley solo home run and, a pair of singles from Grant Judkins and Matt Hoeg, and an error that ultimately scored Hoeg.
Cropley was Iowa's hero at the plate in this one, with two solo home runs, including the eventual game-winner in the top of the 13th, but Iowa never would have won this game without Josh Martsching's incredible performance out of the bullpen. Martsching entered in the seventh and threw 5.2 scoreless innings while allowing just two hits and walking one. Without his ability to snuff out fires from the Gopher offense and keep things rolling along until the Iowa offense could finally get the winning runs, Iowa's 2017 Big Ten Tournament run (and season as a whole) would have ended here.
2017: Iowa stomps Northwestern 13-4 to win tournament
After that incredibly dramatic semifinal win, Iowa's championship game win last year was almost anticlimactic -- they zipped out to a 5-0 lead on Northwestern in the first inning and never looked back. They added a run in the fifth, four more in the seventh, and three more in the eighth to open up an insurmountable 13-1 lead. Jake Adams lived up to his Big Ten Player of the Year billing y going 4/4 with two home runs, while Mason McCoy went 3/5 with a double and Ben Norman went 2/4 with three RBI. Iowa also dug dip into their rotation for Drake Robison -- and were rewarded with a dazzling start, as he threw seven innings and gave up just one run on four hits and three walks while striking out six. Not bad for a pitcher who had a 6.10 ERA on the season. What this win lacked in drama, though, it more than made up for in intense satisfaction, as Iowa won their first Big Ten Tournament title in school history, avenging their title game defeat from the year before, and clinching a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
The Big Ten Tournament has been good to Iowa baseball under Rick Heller, especially the last two seasons. Let's hope Iowa can produce some more good memories this year.