A few weeks ago, Iowa baseball's season was humming right along. They were in the top half of the Big Ten standings and a 2nd or 3rd place finish seemed well within their grasp. After a series win over a ranked UC Irvine team, they even started appearing in mock brackets for the NCAA Tournament as an at-large team. After a slightly sluggish start to the season, Iowa had turned things around and put together what seemed to be a very strong season.
And then the last two weeks happened. Iowa dropped two of three to a Michigan State team mired near the bottom end of the league standings. And then this weekend Iowa headed out east for their final regular season series -- and promptly got swept by Maryland. Iowa ended the year on a five-game losing streak and with almost all aspects of their game in disarray.
In lieu of a comprehensive recap of Iowa's terrible, horrible, no good, very bad weekend, let's just say that nothing worked well, although their offense did have some flashes of strong play. On Thursday, Iowa fell behind 2-0 in the first inning and was down 4-0 after three innings. By the time the ninth inning rolled around, Iowa was down 6-2. To their credit, they put together an impressive four-run comeback to tie the game at 6-6 after the top of the ninth. Unfortunately, they gave up a 2-run home run in the bottom of the ninth to lose 8-6. On Friday, they again fell behind 2-0 in the first inning and were down 7-1 after four innings. They scraped together a few runs after that, but there was comeback to speak of. And on Sunday, Iowa lost again, despite Tanner Wetrich's best efforts. Wetrich hit a three-run homer to tie the game at 4-4 in the fourth and then hit a grand slam to tie the game at 8-8 in the eighth. Alas, Iowa gave up a two-run double in the bottom of the eighth and lost 10-8.
There were some good hitting performances out of Iowa in this series -- Wetrich went 2/4 with two home runs and 7 RBI on Saturday and also went 3/3 on Friday. Zeb Adreon and Ben Norman each went 3/5 on Thursday. But pitching was an issue all weekend. Cole McDonald had Iowa's best starting pitching effort -- he gave up four runs on six hits in five innings on Thursday. Cam Baumann only lasted 3.1 innings after giving up six earned runs on six hits and five walks. Grant Judkins gave up two earned runs on three hits and three walks in three innings of work. The bullpen struggled as well, particularly Grant Leonard. He'd been a rock for much of this season, but he gave up two runs on two hits and got just one out on Thursday and then gave up two runs on two hits in 1.2 innings of work on Saturday. Struggles all around.
Fortunately, Iowa did enough before their current five-game skid to make the Big Ten Tournament (which takes only the top eight teams in the league), albeit just barely. Thanks to that losing streak, Iowa ended the year at 12-12 in Big Ten play, tied with Ohio State and Maryland. The tiebreaker in a three-team tie like that is the winning percentage in games among those teams.
Tiebreaks for 3-5 and 6-8 is win % among tied teams.— Chris Webb (@ChrisMWebb) May 19, 2019
Illinois-Minnesota-Nebraska all 15-9
3- Illinois (4-2)
4- Minnesota (3-3)
5- Nebraska (2-4)
Maryland-OSU-Iowa all 12-12
6- Maryland (4-2)
7- Ohio State (3-3)
8- Iowa (2-4)
Iowa went 2-1 versus Ohio State, but 0-3 versus Maryland, which led to their 2-4 mark here, worst among that trio. Maryland went 3-0 versus Iowa and 1-2 against Ohio State, while the Buckeyes were 1-2 against Iowa and 2-1 against the Terps. So while Iowa had the best overall winning percentage (.577 to .564 and .509), they're the lowest seed of the three. Not that they have anyone to blame for that but themselves, of course.
As the eight-seed, Iowa will face the top seed, Indiana, in round one. That game will be on Wednesday, May 22, at 5 PM CT, and televised by BTN. The Hoosiers went 17-7 in Big Ten play to win the regular season conference title; they also swept Iowa when they played earlier this year, beating Iowa by a combined score of 23-4. Seems like a great opponent to face when you're entering the tournament on a five-game losing streak and with no positive momentum to speak of!
The winner of Iowa-Indiana will face the winner of the Minnesota-Nebraska game that is scheduled to take place after the Iowa-Indiana game concludes. The loser of the Iowa-Indiana game will take on the loser of the Minnesota-Nebraska game in an elimination game. Both of those games will be on Thursday. The winner of that elimination game plays again on Friday. The full conference tournament schedule is available here.
Hopefully Iowa can regain their mojo -- and in a hurry. We've seen Iowa teams do big things in the Big Ten Tournament under Rick Heller -- they won it two years ago, after making the championship game the year before. They're going to need to recapture that 2017 magic again this year if they hope to make another trip to the NCAA Tournament -- anything short of a Big Ten Tournament title will mean the end of Iowa's season. We'll have much more about the Big Ten Tournament later this week.