Heading into the final series of the regular season, we knew that Iowa had a chance to make the Big Ten Tournament if they could win two of three from Penn State. Given their favorable standing in the tiebreakers with the other teams vying for those last few spots in the Top-8 (Illinois, Maryland, Michigan State, potentially Penn State), Iowa just needed to get on level terms with those teams in the standings. Job done. Iowa grabbed the first two games against Penn State and while they lost Friday night's series-ender to miss out on the sweep, they did enough to lock up a Top-8 finish in the Big Ten (which matters because only the Top-8 teams make the Big Ten Tournament).
Road games had been a problem for Iowa all season -- they were 5-14 in true road games before this weekend -- but the Hawkeyes found their road form in the nick of time. Of course, part of that "finding form" was simply facing an easier opponent. Iowa's other road opponents in league play this year were Minnesota, Indiana, and Ohio State -- three of the top four teams in the conference. Penn State is not anywhere close to the caliber of those teams and Iowa took advantage of that fact.
Game One: Iowa 3, Penn State 2
Iowa grabbed the series opener by grabbing an early lead and then simply hanging on. The Hawkeyes scored all three of their runs in the second inning off of two hits, two walks, and an error that got things started for Iowa. Robert Neustrom and Tyler Peyton singled for Iowa, while Mason McCoy, John Barrett, and Neustrom scored the runs for Iowa. Those runs scored by means of a walk, a fielder's choice, and a single. #Hellerball! For the game, Iowa's batters mustered six hits and two walks, but they were able to make that relatively meager production count. Eric Schneck-Joblinske took home top honors at the plate for Iowa, going 2/3 with a double and an RBI. Peyton, McCoy, Neustrom, and Barrett accounted for the other Iowa hits.
C.J. Eldred got the start for Iowa and while he wasn't at his sharpest, he kept Penn State off the board for the most part. Eldred gave up five hits in four innings, but walked none and gave up just one run. Nick Gallagher replaced him and pitched 3.2 innings, giving up three hits and an unearned run while striking out four. Zach Daniels closed out the win for Iowa with 1.1 innings of no-hit ball and picked up his fifth save of the season.
Game Two: Iowa 8, Penn State 0
Poor weather in the forecast necessitated a change to the schedule so Saturday's game was moved up to Friday and Iowa and Penn State played a doubleheader to wrap up the season. We already covered Iowa's big win in the first game of that doubleheader earlier, although we focused mainly on Peyton's superb effort on the mound. Peyton was certainly deserves Man of the Match honors for his dominant display, but the Iowa bats gave him ample support as well.
The game was scoreless through three innings, but Iowa got a run in the fourth and two more in the sixth to open up a 3-0 lead. Another run in the seventh and four more in the ninth were icing on a very delicious cake. Iowa's first run came when Nick Roscetti scored an unearned run off a Daniel Aaron Moriel sacrifice fly. McCoy scored on a groundout and Neustrom scored off an error in the sixth. Peyton scored off a Roscetti single in the seventh and Iowa blew things open in the ninth with four runs off four hits and an error.
Iowa hitters went off for 15 hits in the win so there were plenty of good performers in the lineup, but Moriel might have been the best of the bunch as he went 2/4 with a run scored, a double, and three RBI. Neustrom went 2/4 with two runs scored, a triple, and an RBI. McCoy, Booker, Roscetti, and Daniels each had two-hit games as well. In addition to racking up hits, Iowa also terrorized Penn State on the basepaths in this game, racking up seven stolen bases, led by McCoy and Roscetti with two apiece.
Game Three: Penn State 5, Iowa 4 (12 innings)
Iowa started out well in their quest to finish off the sweep against Penn State, bolting out to a 4-0 lead after two and a half innings. Unfortunately, they couldn't quite manage to score any additional runs the rest of the way, which proved problematic. Iowa certainly had chances -- they racked up 14 hits in the game and drew five walks, but they ended up leaving 13 men on base (in fairness, PSU also left 13 men on base, so both teams had opportunities to score more runs and failed).
Peyton followed up his stellar performance on the mound earlier in the day with a strong showing at the plate in the nightcap, going 3/6 with a double and an RBI. McCoy also went 3/6 with an RBI, although his day was marred by two errors, one of which ended up leading to PSU's game-winning run. Joel Booker and Schenck-Joblinske each contributed two-hit games and Booker added his 22nd stolen base of the year. Roscetti especially struggled with men on base, striking out twice and leaving four runners on base in his plate appearances.
Of course, if Iowa's pitchers had been able to seal the deal, those four runs by the Iowa offense would have held up for a win. Iowa took a 4-1 lead into the bottom of the seventh and gave up two runs, then gave up the tying run in the bottom of the eighth. Each inning for Penn State began with a leadoff walk and those proved costly -- both times the player drawing the leadoff walk wound up scoring. Walks were a major problem for Iowa's pitchers in the game -- they handed out a whopping 10 free passes, more than the nine hits they also conceded. If you give up that many walks, bad things will generally happen and, sure enough, they did.
Still, Iowa had their chances late to grab the win even with those problems -- they left two runners on base in the 11th and loaded the bases with only one out in the 12th, but couldn't get any of those men home. An error, sacrifice bunt, and wild pitch moved PSU's leadoff batter to third in the bottom of the 12th and a single brought him home for the winning run.
Iowa used seven different pitchers in the game, though none of them really excelled. Nick Allgeyer got the start and went 2.1 innings while giving up a run on three hits and a walk. Ryan Erickson had the longest outing, pitching three shutout innings while giving up two hits and a walk. Jared Mandel and Tyler Radtke particularly struggled -- between them they got just one out while walking five batters.
All told, Friday night's loss was a disappointing way to end the series because it featured a lot of missed opportunities and sloppy play from Iowa, but the ultimate result of the series was still very good. Iowa got their first series road win and, most importantly, locked up a return trip to the Big Ten Tournament.
NEXT: Now we wait to see what seed Iowa will get in the Big Ten Tournament and who they will draw in their first round game.