After a sluggish start to the season in non-conference play (going 7-11), Iowa baseball opened Big Ten play by taking two of three games against Maryland. The wins gave Iowa their first series win of the season and improved their record to 9-12 overall. There's certainly still plenty of work to do, but this was a very good way to start off the Big Ten season and (hopefully) jolt Iowa into better form for the remaining two-thirds of the season.
IOWA 8, MARYLAND 1
Iowa began the series with their most impressive performance, dominating Maryland 8-1 on Friday. Maryland scored first, plating a run in the top of the first with a pair of singles sandwiched around a groundout that advanced the runner to second. Iowa starting pitcher C.J. Eldred dazzled after that, though, scattering four hits and zero runs over the next eight innings. Eldred threw a complete game, striking out nine and walking just two while giving up six hits and one run. Eldred has had some strong showings in the last few weeks, but this took things to another level -- hopefully this is a breakout performance that portends more good things from Eldred the rest of the year.
Meanwhile, Iowa batters roughed up Maryland's Mike Shawaryn, tagging him for eight hits and five runs in five innings of work. He entered the game with a 2.97 ERA and had been holding opponents to a .170 batting average and just 17 total hits. Several Iowa batters had good days at the plate, led by DH Austin Guzzo, who went 3/4 with a run scored and 2 RBI, CF Joel Booker, who went 2/5 with a run scored and 2 RBI, and 1B Tyler Peyton, who went 2/5 with three runs scored. Two newcomers, freshman RF Robert Neustrom and junior 3B Mason McCoy, also had good days at the plate, going 2/3 with a run scored and 2 RBI and 2/3 with a run scored and an RBI, respectively.
IOWA 4, MARYLAND 1
Saturday's victory, which clinched the series for the Hawkeyes, involved a bit more drama. Iowa was held scoreless for seven innings, before erupting for four runs in the bottom of the eighth inning. That proved to be enough to take home a 4-1 win. Once again, strong pitching was a key component in Iowa's win. Tyler Peyton wasn't expected to pitch on Saturday, but he took the mound and was very good -- he only lasted five innings, but he gave up just three hits and one run (a Kevin Biondic HR in the 4th inning), while striking out seven and walking none. Nick Gallagher replaced Peyton on the mound and was just as effective, pitching four shutout innings while giving up two runs and a walk and striking out four. Pitching performances like that were sorely lacking for Iowa earlier in the season; if Iowa's able to get outings like this more often, there's no doubt this season can be turned around.
Iowa's batters struggled for most of the game -- they had just five hits through the first seven innings -- but got some timely hitting, good baserunning, and a key error in the eighth inning. Neustrom led off the inning with a single and was replaced by a pinch runner (Devin Pickett), followed by Joel Booker reaching on a fielder's choice that moved Pickett to second (when he acrobatically avoided a tag). Zach Daniels reached on a throwing error and moved to second; Pickett scored the tying run on the same play. Nick Roscetti reached on another fielder's choice before Tyler Peyton laced the game-winning single that scored two. #Hellerball prevails. Peyton went 2/4 with 2 RBI on the day, while Neustrom was a perfect 3/3 on the day.
MARYLAND 4, IOWA 1
Iowa's winning streak -- and run of good pitching -- came to a halt on Sunday, unfortunately. Senior Calvin Mathews' struggles continued, as he lasted just 2.2 innings, during which he gave up seven hits, two walks, and four runs in 63 pitches of work. Mathews' struggles have been a real problem for the Iowa rotation so far this year. Ryan Erickson came on to replace him and stopped the bleeding -- he gave up two hits and a walk (while striking out two) in 4.1 shutout innings of relief work. Luke Vandermaten and Jared Mandel combined for a hit and a walk and no runs in their two innings of relief work, as well. Unfortunately, that bad start from Mathews doomed Iowa.
Well, that and some poor hitting. Maryland's Brian Shaffer continued his strong recent play -- he pitched a complete game shutout against Cal State Fullerton in his previous outing and followed that up with another complete game on Sunday. He gave up just five hits and one run (an Eric Schenck-Joblinske home run in the bottom of the third) and needed just 90 pitches to record his 27 outs. Iowa's batters certainly didn't trouble him much. Schenck-Joblinske had the most success on the day, going 1/3 with the aforementioned home run, although Neustrom also went 1/3 on the day.
In fact, Neustrom's earned Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors for his red-hot hitting last week:
Sunday's loss was disappointing, but overall this weekend was still a tremendous positive for Iowa. Iowa got very good starting pitching performances from C.J. Eldred and Tyler Peyton, as well as strong relief efforts from Ryan Erickson and Nick Gallagher. Iowa's hot-hitting lead duo, Nick Roscetti and Joel Booker, were a little quieter, but Tyler Peyton looked more like the excellent player he was a year ago and newcomers like Neustrom and McCoy had some solid contributions, too. Hopefully Iowa can continue to build off these performances and keep the wins coming in Big Ten play.
NEXT: Iowa hosts Northern Illinois (6-17) on Tuesday at 4 PM CT (the game was moved up from Wednesday afternoon due to weather concerns), then heads north to Minneapolis for a weekend series against Minnesota (12-9 overall, 0-0 Big Ten).