Yesterday's win over Ohio State was thrilling and dramatic -- Iowa came into their final inning down 4-0 and staged a stunning comeback to win in 10 innings. Today's win over Maryland was... less dramatic. But what it lacked in drama it made up for in sheer awesomeness as Iowa got a tremendous offensive display and some lockdown pitching to cruise to an 11-0 win in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals. Next stop? BIG TEN CHAMPIONSHIP GAME HERE WE COME.
Iowa's opponent in that Big Ten Championship Game is still very much TBD. It could be one of three teams: #4 seed Ohio State, #5 seed Michigan, or #7 seed Michigan State. Ohio State and Michigan still have to finish an elimination game that began last night before being halted for lightning; the winner of that game will then play Michigan State this evening. The ideal situation for Iowa might be if the winner of that Ohio State-Michigan game then beats Michigan State tonight, because that would trigger a rematch between either Ohio State or Michigan and Michigan State tomorrow morning. And the winner of that game would then play Iowa in the Big Ten Championship Game tomorrow afternoon -- after playing between 18 and 25 innings in under 24 hours. Regardless of who it is, though, IOWA'S IN THE TITLE GAME. Let's not lose sight of that very awesome fact.
And, yes, although the Big Ten Tournament is a double-elimination event and Iowa has no losses, tomorrow's Championship Game is winner take all. Iowa does not get a do-over if they suffer their first loss of the tournament. Is that entirely fair? Probably not -- it's just the way it is. But let's not worry about that, because this team is playing so damn well right now.
Two big offensive innings keyed Iowa's win today. They put up three runs in the fourth inning to take a 3-0 lead, then scored five in the eighth inning to blow the game wide open and make it 8-0. They tacked on three more runs in the ninth inning to finish off a stunning 11-0 win. Maryland gave up the fewest walks in the Big Ten in league-only games, handing out just 48 free passes all season. They gave up NINE walks today -- and Iowa made them pay for it.
Walks were a big part of Iowa's scoring surge in the fourth inning. After a Joel Booker fly-out, Mason McCoy and Austin Guzzo earned back-to-back walks to put two runners on with one out. Robert Neustrom laced a single that scored McCoy, then Daniel Aaron Moriel hit another single that scored Guzzo. An Eric Schenck-Joblinske sacrifice fly scored Neustrom to finish off the scoring for Iowa in the inning -- and give them a 3-0 lead.
Iowa continued to get runners on base after that, but struggled to convert those scoring opportunities into actual runs. They stranded three in the fifth, one in the sixth, and two in the seventh. They still led 3-0, but their inability to add any insurance runs was proving a little concerning -- as we saw a day ago, a 3-0 lead is hardly insurmountable. But then the eighth inning hit -- and Iowa got more than enough insurance runs. Schenck-Joblinske started things off with a double and then things went completely off-kilter for the Terps with a three-base throwing error that scored Schenck-Joblinske and let Zach Daniels get to third. (Replay showed that Daniels actually failed to touch first base, but Maryland didn't challenge that, so hey!) That blunder seemed to open up the floodgates -- Peyton walked, then stole second, Roscetti cracked a single up the middle to score Daniels, and Booker zipped a double down the third base line to score Peyton and Roscetti. All of a sudden Iowa's 3-0 lead had ballooned to 7-0. An Austin Guzzo single scored Booker to make it 8-0 for Iowa. That was it for runs for Iowa in the inning, but they did end up batting around -- after starting the scoring barrage with a double, Schenck-Joblinske ended the inning with a strikeout.
There were a bevy of great offensive performances to choose from, as you'd expect from a game where Iowa totaled 14 hits and 11 runs. Booker continued his hot hitting in this tournament with a 3/6 performance that included two doubles, two RBI, and a run scored. Robert Neustrom was excellent, going 3/4 with two RBI, a run scored, and two intentional walks -- his hitting was a big part of Iowa's scoring binges in the fourth and eighth innings. Roscetti shook off an 0/4 start to finish 2/6 with a double, two runs scored, and two RBI. Mason McCoy, Iowa's game-winning hero a day ago, had another solid day, going 2/5 with a run scored and an RBI. Peyton, Guzzo, Moriel, and Schenck-Joblinske each had a hit apiece as well; the only Iowa starter who didn't record a hit was Zach Daniels -- but he managed to draw three walks and scored two runs, so he still had a productive day for the Iowa offense, as did damn near everyone who saw an at-bat for the Hawkeyes today.
All those runs were nice, but as it turned out, Iowa didn't exactly need them, thanks to some tremendous pitching from Nick Gallagher. Freshman Shane Ritter got the start for Iowa and while he kept the Terps off the board, he was a bit shaky -- in his three innings he hit a batter and gave up three hits, a walk, and a wild pitch. Still, he pitched well enough to keep Iowa firmly in the game until the offense turned up in the fourth inning. After giving up a leadoff hit in the fourth, though, his day was done. He was replaced by Nick Gallagher, Iowa's long relief specialist. Gallagher's appearance got off to a brilliant start when the struck out the side in the fourth -- and it didn't really let up from there. He went six innings and gave up just one hit and one walk while striking out a career-high nine batters. He was absolutely phenomenal on the mound for Iowa. His dominant outing also prevented Iowa from having to use any more relievers in the game, so they go into tomorrow's championship game with a pretty full bullpen to call upon as needed.
Iowa's one game away from a Big Ten Championship and a return trip to the NCAA Tournament. This is awesome. So, so awesome. Let's dance!