Less than two weeks ago, writing the headline above felt pretty unlikely -- on May 8, Iowa lost 3-0 to Ohio State to fall to 22-23 overall, 8-10 in the Big Ten and two games out of eighth place in the Big Ten standings. Things were looking a bit grim for the Hawkeyes' chances of making a third-straight appearance in the Big Ten Tournament under Rick Heller. Things looked even grimmer when Iowa dropped their next game, a 5-1 loss to Michigan State in the first game of a three game series. And then? Then things changed in a hurry.
Since the MSU loss Iowa has been on a tear, winning five games in a row and outscoring their opponents 29-6. They took the final two games from Michigan State, then sandwiched a blowout win over Western Illinois between their most recent wins, a 3-2 nailbiter over Penn State last night and an 8-0 thumping over Penn State in the first game of a doubleheader today. Those wins, coupled with Illinois' 1-0 loss to Michigan last night, locked up a spot in the Big Ten Tournament. Iowa, now 12-11 in the Big Ten and 27-24 overall, can finish no worse than 12-12 in Big Ten action and that, combined with tiebreaker advantages over Illinois and Penn State means Iowa is guaranteed to finish at least eighth in the final Big Ten standings. A third-straight Big Ten Tournament appearance is a new record for Iowa:
Iowa baseball advances to the Big Ten Tournament for third straight year, a program record. Iowa is now 98-65 under Rick Heller.— Matt Cozzi (@matt_cozzi) May 20, 2016
Iowa's overall goals are bigger than just making the Big Ten Tournament -- I'm sure Heller aspires to make Iowa the sort of team that can contend for Big Ten titles and make appearances in the NCAA Tournament more often than once every 25 years. But an important first step along that path is becoming the sort of team that regularly makes it to the Big Ten Tournament (which is not a given the way it is in basketball because only the top-8 finishers in baseball make the Big Ten Tournament). Iowa's starting to make appearances in the Big Ten Tournament into a habit, which is a very good thing -- they're establishing a foundation of success that's going to make it easier to achieve bigger and better things in the years to come.
I'll recap the entire Penn State series after the final game of the doubleheader today, but for now let's spare some praise for Tyler Peyton, who was absolutely masterful today. He threw a complete game shutout, striking out four and giving up just three hits all game. (FUN FACT: Penn State had more errors (4) than they had hits (3). That's not good.) And he needed just 98 pitches to complete that gem, meaning that he pitched a freaking Maddux! What's a Maddux, you're asking? Baseball writer (and Iowa alum!) Jason Lukehart coined the term, so Iet's allow him to explain:
Greg Maddux is my favorite pitcher ever, and it's not particularly close. I tend to be more drawn to position players, but Maddux has always been an exception. I know the strikeout is the "best" out, but growing up, I didn't want to be accused of fascism, so I liked pitchers who got grounders and weak pop flies, or if they struck guys out, did it by painting the corners. I realize there's a bit more to it than that, and a bit more to Maddux too, but I was a good pitcher without being able to throw very hard, and I loved me some Greg Maddux. In 1998, I came across a box score for a game in which Maddux had thrown a complete game shutout, and used fewer than 100 pitches. I LOVED it! Ever since then, I've kept my eye out for such games and calling such a pitching line a "Maddux."
Requirements for a Maddux:
The pitcher must toss a complete game shutout, and throw fewer than 100 pitches.
Madduxes ain't easy to come by. Throwing a shutout is hard. Throwing a complete game is even harder. Doing both things in fewer than 100 pitches? Really damn hard! So props to Tyler Peyton for some absolutely lights-out pitching on Friday afternoon. Friday's performance was outstanding, but it was also the continuation of some incredible form from Peyton lately: prior to Friday, he'd given up zero runs and five hits in 14 innings in his last two starts. After Friday's start, he's up to eight hits in his last three starts and his scoreless streak is up to 23 innings. He's picked a great time of the year to catch fire. I can't imagine that he wouldn't get the call in Iowa's first game in the Big Ten Tournament next week.
About the Big Ten Tournament... it's in Omaha this year (at TD Ameritrade Park, also the home of the College World Series) and at present, Iowa is looking at the #8 seed. Minnesota is currently the #1 seed with a one-game edge on Indiana in the loss column. Depending on the rest of the results this weekend, though, those match-ups could change. Iowa could finish as high as 6th if they land in a three-way tie with Maryland and Michigan State (Iowa has the tiebreaker advantage over both of those teams) and there's also the possibility of some shifting in the top four seeds in the Big Ten Tournament as well.
The 1/8 game is at 5 PM CT and will be televised by BTN. You can find the full bracket here and more information about the BTT here. We'll have a full breakdown of the Big Ten Tournament field and Iowa's opponent when this weekend's games are down and the bracket is set.
In the meantime, Iowa baseball is on a tear and they're headed back to the Big Ten Tournament -- let's dance: