Rick Heller Gets to 900 Career Wins; Iowa Baseball Off to Strong Start In 2020

By RossWB on March 5, 2020 at 7:27 pm
@NickJFaleris (Twitter)

And now, a little update on the Iowa baseball team! 

Big news first: Rick Heller hit a big coaching milestone on Tuesday, recording his 900th career win as Iowa clobbered Grand View 15-2 in Iowa's home opener at Duane Banks Field. 

That's a lot of wins! Heller's began coaching at Upper Iowa back in 1988. His career has also taken him to UNI and Indiana State before he landed in Iowa City in 2014. 204 of those 900 wins have come with the Hawkeyes. Here's to many more Ws to come. 

Grand View is an NAIA school out of Des Moines, so Iowa did what a good Big Ten team ought to do against a team like that: post a lot of crooked numbers. It took the Hawkeye bats a little while to get going (they were held scoreless in three of the first four innings), but after a three-run third, they scored two in the fifth, three more in the sixth, and exploded for sixth in the seventh before tacking on a final run in the eighth. Iowa scored 15 runs on 14 hits and drew 11 walks, so there was a lot of joy up and down the Iowa lineup. Every starter got at least one hit except Lorenzo Elion (who only had two at-bats at DH). Trenton Wallace hit a double and a home run, while Izaya Fullard, Peyton Williams, and Brandon Sher all laced triples. Fullard had the hottest bat of the day for Iowa, going 3/4 with three runs scored and four RBI. Zeb Adreon (2/4, 3 RBI), Wallace (2/2, 1 run scored, 1 RBI), and Matthew Sosa (2/4, 2 runs scored were the other Iowa batters with multi-hit outings. 

Iowa got a solid start out of Hunter Lee, who threw three scoreless innings and tossed six strikeouts while allowing just two hits and two walks. He was replaced by Cam Baumann, who had the shakiest outing from Iowa's pitching staff -- he lasted just 1.1 innings and gave up two runs on three hits and a walk. Not ideal. Jack Guzek, Adam Ketelsen, and Jacob Henderson finished off the game by combining to throw 4.2 innings and allowing no runs and just one run and one hit. The full box score for the game is available here

Prior to the home opener, Iowa also played a trio of high-profile opponents at the CambriaCollegeClassic in Minneapolis. The CambriaCollegeClassic was a de facto Big Ten-ACC Challenge, pitting Iowa, Minnesota, and Purdue against North Carolina State, North Carolina, and Duke in a three-game series (each B1G team played each ACC team once). All the games were held at U.S. Bank Stadium (where the Vikings play) in Minneapolis. Baseball in a football stadium is always a strange experience. 

FRIDAY: #8 NC State 10, Iowa 6

The weekend got started on a tough note as Iowa lost 10-6 to a very good NC State team. Iowa went down 1-0 in the first inning behind a lead-off home run to Austin Murr. NC State added four more runs in the fourth off three hits and a pair of walks. Iowa recorded their first hits -- and first run -- of the game in the fifth, when Peyton Williams led off the inning and eventually scored off a Sam Link sacrifice fly. Iowa's bats relaly came to life in the seventh as they scored four runs on four hits (and an error) to tie the game at 5-5. Williams scored again on a Dylan Nedved single; Zeb Adreon scored on a Link ground out; Nedved scored on a Justin Jenkins double; and Jenkins scored on a Ben Norman single.

The tie was short-lived, though, because NC State went ahead 6-5 in the bottom of the seventh off a solo home run from Patrick Bailey. Bailey followed that with a grand slam in the eighth to extend NC State's lead to 10-5 and that was a hole far too deep for Iowa to escape from, though they did add a run on an Adreon RBI single in the top of the ninth. 

Iowa managed eight hits and drew two walks, with Adreon being the standout performer for the Hawkeyes: 3/4 (two doubles), 2 runs scored, and a walk. Nedved also managed to go 2/2 with a run scored and two RBI. 

Jack Dreyer, normally Iowa's top pitcher, had a rocky outing against the Wolfpack, allowing five runs on four hits and three walks, while collecting just three strikeouts in three innings of work. Trace Hoffman spelled Dreyer effectively, giving up no runs on two hits and a walk across 2.2 innings. Drew Irvine was less successful, allowing four runs (albeit only one earned) on two hits and a walk in two inning. Cam Baumann gave up a run and two hits while getting just one out as Iowa's final pitcher of the game. The full box score for the game is available here

SATURDAY: Iowa 5, #20 North Carolina 4 (10 innings)

Iowa fell victim to another bad start on Saturday, going down 2-0 to UNC in the first after giving up two runs on three hits (two triples and a double) in the top of the inning. Iowa's pitching settled down after that rough start, allowing just two hits and a single run over the next seven innings. Unfortunately, it took Iowa's bats a long time to wake up. In fact, Iowa's first hit of the game didn't come until they were down two outs in the seventh inning. But Iowa's lineup proved that it doesn't always matter how you start if you can finish strong -- and, boy, did they finish strong. 

After going down 4-0 in the top of the ninth when a UNC runner scored on a wild pitch, Iowa staged an incredible comeback. It began with Dylan Nedved drawing a leadoff walk and then advancing to second on a wild pitch and to third on a passed ball. Izaya Fullard struck out on a 3-2 count, before Austin Martin and Peyton Williams walked to load the bases. Zeb Adreon drew a third straight walk from UNC to scored Nedved. A UNC pitching change stopped the parade of walks to Iowa batters -- but not the Iowa comeback. Brayden Frazier roped a single to center field that scored two to cut the lead to 4-3. Then Matthew Sosa was hit by a pitch to load the bases again. Adreon scored the tying run on a Lorenzo Elion sacrifice fly, before Ben Norman flew out to end the inning after Iowa had tied the game and left two runners stranded. 

Iowa then had to survive a nerve-racking top of the 10th inning, as UNC got back-to-back leadoff hits and then advanced those runners to second and third with a sacrifice bunt. An intentional walk loaded the bases for the Tar Heels, but Grant Leonard got the final two outs for Iowa with a fielder's choice and a groundout. Whew.

Did Iowa have any more heroics left in the tank after squeezing out four runs in the bottom of the ninth to tie the game? Well... 

GO WALKOFF AWESOME. Gotta love a sad catcher.

Austin Martin's solo home run in the bottom of the 10th gave Iowa a 5-4 win in extra-dramatic fashion. That (very very) big hit was Martin's only one of the game (he went 1/4 with two runs scored and an RBI overall), but what a hit it was. That ball was smoked. 

In all, Iowa's bats were pretty quiet against UNC -- they managed just three hits in 31 at-bats, though they did manage to draw seven walks as well. Peyton Williams (who broke up the UNC no-hit bid) and Frazier had the only other Iowa hits in the game. 

This was a pitching dual for most of the afternoon and Iowa's staff acquitted itself well for the most part. Grant Judkins got the start and give up three runs on five hits over six innings, while striking out five. Trenton Wallace replaced him and gave up a run on a hit in three innings, while striking out four. And Grant Leonard pitched one scoreless inning to finish things off, though he did allow two hits and a walk. The full box score is available here

SUNDAY: Iowa 7, #14 Duke 5 

Iowa wasn't quite done with drama for the weekend, either, as they staged another rally to come back and defeat Duke 7-5 in their third and final CambriaCollegeClassic game. For the third straight game, Iowa's pitching gave up an early lead -- Duke went up 2-0 in the top of the first off an RBI groundout (after allowing a triple to the lead-off batter) and a solo home run. But, once again, Iowa's pitching settled down after the shaky start -- Duncan Davitt held the Blue Devils scoreless over the next four innings. Iowa tied the game at 2-2 off a two-run blast from Peyton Williams that went into the club seats. 

The tie game lasted all of two pitches once Duke went back to bat in the fifth inning, though, as Davitt allowed a solo home run to let Duke go on top 3-2. They added another run off an RBI double to go up 4-2 at the end of five innings. A pivotal point in the game came in the top of the sixth, as Duke loaded the based with no outs on a pair of singles and a walk. Iowa turned to Ben Beutel out of the bullpen and he, incredibly, got Iowa out of that jam with no damage done, forcing a strikeout from the first batter he faced, then getting the second out on a fielder's choice at home plate, and finally recording another strikeout for the third and final out of the inning. Duke looked on the verge of blowing the game wide open in that inning, but Beutel's ability helped Iowa get through that inning unscathed and with the deficit a manageable two runs. 

Sure enough, Iowa halved that deficit in the bottom of the sixth off an RBI single from Zeb Adreon. Duke extended their lead again with an RBI double in the seventh, but Iowa's bats roared to life in the bottom of the seventh. After Brayden Frazier led off the inning wit ha strikeout, Lorenzo Elion laced a double into right field. Matthew Sosa struck out for Iowa's second out of the inning, before Ben Nelson smacked a double into right field to score Elion and Izaya Fullard hit a line drive home run to left to give Iowa  a 6-5 lead. 

Iowa added an insurance run with an Elion sacrifice fly in the bottom of the eighth, but it didn't matter -- Duke was unable to challenge Iowa in the eighth or the ninth other than drawing a walk with one out in the ninth. Iowa promptly ended that threat by inducing a double play from the next batter to end the game and seal another thrilling win for the Hawkeyes. 

Iowa's bats were more lively in the finale, posting 11 hits and drawing one walk to score seven runs. Fullard feasted, going 3/4 (with a double and a home run) with three runs scored and two RBI. Adreon went 2/4 with an RBI, while Norman, Martin, Williams, Frazier, Eloin, and Sosa had Iowa's other hits in the game. 

Davitt had a good enough start to keep Iowa in the game -- he allowed four runs on seven hits in five innings, walking just one and striking out three. He was replaced by Ben Probst, who gave up two hits and a walk and recorded no outs. Ben Beutel pitched Iowa free from that mess and ended up giving up one run on on hit in 1.1 innings of work. Dylan Nedved and Grant Leonard teamed up to pitch the final 2.2 innings for Iowa, giving up just one hit and one walk combined, while striking out three and allowing no runs. A full box score is available here

The wins in Minneapolis, plus the win over Grand View improved Iowa's record to 6-4 through the season's first 10 games. Iowa opened up the year by going 2-1 in the Snowbird Classic in Florida (beating Kent State 3-1 and Saint Joseph's 7-2 before falling to Pitt 10-8). They went 1-2 in the Tony Gwynn Legacy Tournament in San Diego, losing 1-4 to San Diego State and 10-5 to San Diego but beating then-#18 Arizona 4-1. 

Overall Iowa's had a pretty difficult schedule to start the year, it's given them a pretty tremendous RPI ranking early on. They currently rank 8th in the nation (Iowa's win over Grand View is not factored into RPI calculations since they aren't a Division I opponent). 

A nice RPI and some quality banked wins over ranked teams could serve Iowa well come May, though they're also going to need to rack up a lot of wins, too. This weekend Iowa is headed back to Florida for more Snowbird Classic action, taking on Western Michigan (7-5, RPI 63), Georgetown (3-9, RPI 158), and Army (3-7, RPI 138). Those teams appear worse (on paper) than most of the squads Iowa has faced so far this year, so hopefully they can rack up some wins. Two wins this weekend out to be the minimum expectation, and three seems very doable. 


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