Iowa baseball was always facing an uphill battle to make the NCAA Tournament and the other shoe finally dropped on them last week. After bouncing back from a slow start and putting together a strong end to the regular season, Iowa used the exact same playbook for the conference tournament--starting slow before heating up. Unfortunately, their heater eventually met the immovable object known as fatigue, ultimately bringing their season to an end.
It wasn't all bad for Iowa athletics last week though, as the Hawkeye track and field team qualified a host of athletes for the NCAA Championships in Eugene next week. Let's take a closer look.
- After a few too many stumbles during the regular season, the Hawks needed to win the conference tournament to earn a bid to the NCAA Tourney. The Big Ten got little respect from the selection committee (only two teams qualified from the conference, regular season champion Maryland and conference tournament champion Michigan) and combining that with a slow start left Iowa with no option besides earning an automatic bid.
- The path to that bid was made much harder by an opening game upset defeat against Penn State. Adam Mazur battled back spasms to pitch five innings, giving up only two runs, but the Hawkeye offense was muted for most of the day. Iowa scored a run in the 3rd and 6th innings but left multiple opportunities on the field. The quiet hitting, along with an unfortunate "error" in which Brandon Sher saw the baseball get stuck in the webbing of his mitt, proved too much to overcome for Iowa. The 5-2 loss meant the Hawks were going to have to run the table from the loser's side of the bracket to earn a conference tournament title.
- The unlikely run got off to a good start when the Hawks bested Purdue in a back-and-forth affair. Purdue took an early lead, but the Hawkeyes battled back with a 3-run fifth inning. Iowa took advantage of small ball and aggressive baserunning, but Purdue wouldn't go away. The game was tied at 4-all in the ninth inning before Izaya Fullard came through with a clutch single through the middle to score the winning run. Iowa's 5-4 win kept their tourney hopes alive.
A look back at Friday's victory in Omaha! pic.twitter.com/PmA4B45PGs— Iowa Baseball (@UIBaseball) May 27, 2022
- Iowa next faced Penn State again, this time in an elimination game. Iowa didn't waste time playing with their food, blasting the Nittany Lions 11-3. The win meant they got to play again that day, this time against Michigan. As part of the fun bracketology that is a double-elimination tournament, Iowa needed to beat Michigan twice, while Michigan only needed one victory to make the Big Ten Tournament Championship Game. At this point, it was all hands on deck for the Hawkeye pitching staff, which only served to further highlight Cam Baumann's great start. He pitched 5.2 innings, giving up only two runs and giving the arms in the bullpen a much-needed rest. After six innings, Iowa held a slim 3-2 lead, but broke the game open in the 7th inning, plating four runs. Sam Petersen drove in two with a pinch-hit single and the Hawks followed it up with two more RBI singles to push the lead to 7-2. Michigan scored just one more run, setting up a Sunday winner-take-all game for a spot in the Big Ten Tournament Championship Game.
Hawkeye Fans! You were loud at the ballpark on Saturday and we can't wait to see and hear you again today in Omaha! pic.twitter.com/JdD36aNyN7— Iowa Baseball (@UIBaseball) May 29, 2022
- Iowa finally ran into a wall Sunday morning against Michigan. The Wolverines scored two runs in the first inning and put up two more in the 4th inning to take a 4-0 lead. Iowa had a few chances, but the bats looked as fatigued as the arms, and Michigan ultimately broke the game open in the 7th inning, winning 13-1. The Iowa bullpen issued nine walks, only a few days after tying the Big Ten Tournament record for strikeouts in the opening round. It was no doubt a disappointing loss, but no one can hold it against the Hawks, who made a strong tournament run, becoming the first team to win two tournament games in a day.
- Ultimately, as they sometimes did during the regular season, the Hawks dug themselves an early hole that proved too much to fully overcome. The season was still clearly a success overall, and Iowa continues to be in good hands with Coach Heller at the helm. The elusive NCAA regional bid still sits in front of them, but I have faith that they'll get over that hump in the next few seasons.
Track and Field
- Hawkeye Track and Field took part in the NCAA Regional meet last weekend, sending a smattering of athletes to the NCAA Championships.
- LaSarah Hargrove continued her standout season, qualifying for the championships in both the 100m and 200m races. She was also part of the 4x100 team, which set a school record (43.69) and qualified for the championships as well. The relay team consisted of Hargrove, Lia Love, Erin Dowd, and Paige Magee. Both Dowd and Magee doubled up on championships qualifications as well, each earning bids in the 400m hurdles.
- The 4x400m relay team ran a qualifying time on the women's side but were ultimately DQ'd from their race.
- On the men's side, James Carter Jr's stud field season continued, as he qualified in both the triple jump and the long jump. Carter earned his long jump bid in style, winning the regional with a personal best 7.93m jump.
- Nik Curtiss earned a Eugene trip in the shot put and Jordan Johnson earned a bid of his own in the discus. Josh Braverman and Gratt Reed both qualified in the 110m hurdles, with Braverman running a personal best, and Julien Gillum ran a personal best time to qualify in the 400m hurdles.
- The men's team also qualified two relays, the 4x100 team of Kalil Johnson, Austin Kresley, Reed, and Khullen Jefferson, as well as the 4x400 team of Austin West, Armando Bryson, Spencer Gudgel, and Gillum. Iowa has sent a 4x100 team to the championships in nine straight seasons and a 4x400 team in five straight seasons.
- The Hawks are still missing some of their fastest athletes, yet that didn't stop them from an extraordinary NCAA regional weekend. Regional titles, multi-event qualifiers, and personal bests are great signs for the health of the program. Iowa showed off its depth and breadth over the weekend and will no doubt look to finish the year with a bang at the NCAA Championships.