Iowa faced off against Nebraska, the top ranked team in the Big Ten this weekend and did exactly what Iowa has done to Nebraska ever since Heller took over: dominated them. Rick Heller and the Hawks are now 11-4 vs Nebraska since he became the head coach, and they were one diving catch away from a sweep of their “rival.”
Game 1: Iowa 3, Nebraska 2
The first game of this series was one of the better college baseball games you will see all year. Friday night under the lights with Nebraska ace Matt Waldron on the mound vs Cole McDonald was a low scoring pitcher's duel that featured plenty of defense.
Iowa got on the board first, scoring a run in the third inning after back-to-back two out hits by Zeb Adreon and Chris Whelan. The Hawks wouldn't have the lead for long, though, as Nebraska scored two in the 4th. The score would stay at 2-1 until the 6th inning, when Austin Martin drove in Chris Whelan to tie the game.
Runs were kept off the board thanks in large part to plays like this:
After the Iowa bullpen shut down the Huskers, the Hawkeyes had a chance to win it in the bottom of the 9th. Tanner Wetrich lead off the inning with a single but was thrown out at second after a Justin Jenkins sacrifice bunt attempt. Pinch hitter Tanner Padgett then stepped to the plate with Jenkins, the tying run, on first. Jenkins quickly stole second. Padgett struck out, which set the table for Zeb Adreon. With two outs and the winning run on second, Adreon ripped a ball to right field for a walk-off Iowa win after the throw from the Nebraska right fielder landed somewhere in outer space.
Iowa starter Cole McDonald went six innings, allowing only two runs on four hits. The Iowa bullpen was nails, as Kyle Shrimp and Trace Hoffman threw the final three innings without giving up hit.
Game 2: Iowa 17, Nebraska 9
Nebraska jumped out to a 1-0 lead in game 2 of the series, but it didn’t last long. With runners on the corners in the bottom of the 4th, Ben Norman launched a 386-foot home run to give Iowa the 3-1 lead. Iowa would really get things going in the 5th, when they extended the lead to 10-3 following eight runs on seven hits all with two outs. The two-out rally included a Whelan single, a 2-RBI double from Austin Martin, an Izaya Fullard home run that went 406 (!!!) feet, a Ben Norman double, a Wetrich single, and a Connor McCaffery single.
From there the game was pretty much over, but it is one of those where the box score looks incredible. Chris Whelan went 4-5 with four runs scored and an RBI, Mitchell Boe went 1-3 with three RBIs, Ben Norman went 3-6 with three runs scored and three RBIs, and Tanner Wetrich was 2-3.
Nebraska pitcher Nate Fisher came into the game with a 4-1 record, 2.29 ERA, and a .195 batting average against. Iowa didn't seem to care, knocking him out after 4.2 innings with five hits, four earned runs and seven total runs. Iowa starter Cam Baumann went five innings and allowed six hits and two earned runs while striking out seven. This was only the second time in his nine starts this season that he has struck out more than five batters.
Game 3: Nebraska 3, Iowa 2
After the hit parade in game 2, Iowa was looking for the sweep of the top team in the Big Ten with their best pitcher, Grant Judkins, on the mound. Unfortunately, the Iowa bats couldn’t get going, something that has been a common theme following scoring explosions. Iowa has scored 10 or more runs six times this season and they have lost the following game four times.
Judkins sat down the first nine Nebraska hitters of the game, but gave up a lead-off home run in the 4th to give Nebraska the 1-0 lead. Nebraska added two more runs in the 7th following a hit and two errors. Overall, though, Judkins was great in this start, throwing seven innings, striking out four, and only allowing one earned run. He also didn’t issue a single walk, the first time he has done that all season.
In the bottom of the 7th, Iowa finally got a little offense thanks to Connor McCaffery’s first career home run. In the 8th, still trailing 3-1, the Hawkeyes got another after an error by Nebraska put Mitchell Boe on second base. Austin Martin followed the error with a walk, putting runners at first and second with one out. Boe would score on a bloop single from Izaya Fullard, cutting the deficit to 3-2. With the tying run on third, Tanner Wetrich grounded out to end the inning.
The Hawkeyes continued to show life in the bottom of the 9th, but it just wasn’t their day. McCaffery ripped a ball to center field but the Nebraska center fielder made a spectacular diving catch to rob McCaffery of a potential game-tying double. Iowa out hit Nebraska 4-5 in the game, but the errors and seven men left on base were ultimately too much for them to overcome.
Big Ten Standings
Iowa is now 9-6 in the Big Ten and has won four straight series since the disaster at Indiana to open league play. They are still in 4th place in the conference, but they sit just 1.5 games behind Indiana. The good news is that the top three teams in the conference, Indiana, Michigan, and Nebraska, still have to play each other while Iowa has series remaining with Ohio State, Michigan State, and Maryland. Iowa has missed some great opportunities this season to sweep teams, but they are still right in the thick of things. If they do what they need to do in their final three conference series while the top of the league beats up on each other they will be in great shape come the end of the year.