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OHIO STATE 8, IOWA 7: END OF THE RIDE

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Iowa's quest for a Big Ten title came up just short.

BTN

Two days ago Iowa used a late comeback to stage a thrilling comeback win against Ohio State, plating four runs in the bottom of the ninth to tie the game at 4-4 and send the game to extras. They tried to repeat history on Sunday -- but came up just short. Once again Iowa entered the late innings trailing -- and once again they tied it up, this time scoring three in the bottom of the eighth to tie the game at 7-7. Unfortunately, this time they didn't get the winning run -- the Buckeyes did, using a double in the top of the ninth to score Ronnie Dawson for the go-ahead win. Iowa's comeback mojo was all out and they went down in order in the bottom of the ninth, ending their quest for a Big Ten Tournament title -- and a spot in the NCAA Tournament for the second straight season. Instead, their season is over.

And, yes, they only lost once in a double-elimination tournament but were still eliminated -- that's simply the way the tournament works.  The championship game is winner-take-all, no matter how many losses the teams playing in it have up to that point. Is it logical?  Not so much. Is it fair? Probably not.  But it's the way things are set up for now. Feel free to contact the Big Ten (@bigten) and let them know how you feel about it. Honestly, I'm not sure how much an extra game would have benefited Iowa -- as you might have been able to tell, Iowa's pitching depth was not so great. Their three best pitchers -- C.J. Eldred, Tyler Peyton, and Nick Gallagher -- had already pitched heavy innings in the tournament and Eldred made a return appearance on Sunday after three days rest. Iowa wouldn't have had a lot of options on the mound for another game.

Iowa got three good innings out of Calvin Mathews, their starter today, and there may have been some questioning why he was pulled after seeing just nine batters in three innings and striking out four of them.  The simple truth is, he had nothing more to give physically:

Mathews ran the tank completely dry in his Hawkeye career. He's dealt with a torn labrum since his freshman season, trying to battle through the pain and produce for the Hawkeyes.  Hawk Central's Mark Emmert produced a tremendous article about his struggles earlier this season that detailed what Mathews has been going through. He was able to fight through it effectively as a sophomore and junior, but he hasn't been so fortunate this year as a senior. He gave everything he possibly could for the Hawkeyes -- it's impossible to ask for any more than that.

He left the game with Iowa leading 4-0 after a run in the first and three more in the third; unfortunately, everything went pear-shaped after that. Mathews was replaced by Ryan Erickson and it seemed like a sensible move -- along with Nick Gallagher, who performed flawlessly yesterday, Erickson has been one of Iowa's most consistent long relievers as well as an occasional starter.  He's performed quite well in his recent outings too:

Unfortunately, it didn't work out today -- Erickson couldn't make Ohio State's bats miss. He gave up five runs on five hits in 0.1 innings of work.  Iowa's 4-0 lead? Gone.  They'd never lead again. Ohio State tacked on two more runs off Nick Allgeyer in the top of the seventh to boost their lead to 7-4.

Still, Iowa kept battling and they found some late game magic to tie the game up.  In the bottom of the eighth, they got a pair of walks to Robert Neustrom and Daniel Aaron Moriel, and then a pitch hit single from Devin Pickett (the unlikely hero of Friday's game against Ohio State) to load the bases. Tyler Peyton lined a first-pitch double to left field to score a Neustrom and Moriel to cut the lead to 7-6. Nick Roscetti then got hit by a pitch to load the bases for Joel Booker, who snapped a single to center to tie the game at 7-7 and keep the bases loaded. Unfortunately, Mason McCoy flew out to right field to end the inning and leave the bases loaded for Iowa.

Missed opportunities was a theme for Iowa in this game -- they left nine men on base overall, at least one player in every inning except the sixth and the ninth innings, though no scenario was quite as damaging as leaving the bases full in the eighth. Iowa got three runs in that inning so it was far from a failure, but there was the opportunity for much more there and with few chances remaining in the game, it was vital to take advantage there. Iowa just couldn't quite get enough timely hits when they needed them.

That wasn't through any fault of Joel Booker, though, who capped off his senior season with a great day on Sunday and a tremendous overall performance at the Big Ten Tournament. He went 4/5 with a run scored and two RBI on Sunday, and 13/20 overall at the Big Ten Tournament, a sizzling .650 batting average. He was absolutely outstanding. Before the Big Ten Tournament he talked about wanting to win a championship ring -- something he'd never done before at any level of baseball -- and while he unfortunately came up just short in that quest today, his performance this week -- and this entire season -- was absolutely phenomenal. Iowa will miss him terribly next year.

(And speaking of outstanding individual performances, shout-out to Ohio State's Ronnie Dawson who set Big Ten Tournament records for most hits and doubles this week and was key in all of Ohio State's scoring surges today, He went 3/5 with two doubles and two RBI and scored twice. His double in the fourth got Ohio State on the board, his double in the seventh put Ohio State in position to score more runs in that inning, and he scored game-winning run in the ninth. He was an absolute monster all week and Iowa had no answers for him on Sunday.)

Booker wasn't Iowa's only high-achiever on Sunday -- Tyler Peyton went 2/4 with two doubles and two RBI and scored a run, while Mason McCoy went 2/5 with a double, an RBI, and a run scored. Robert Neustrom also added a pair of hits for Iowa and scored a run and knocked in another.

So that's it.  Iowa's season is over.  They have no hope of making it into the NCAA Tournament as an at-large team -- their only chance was to grab the Big Ten's automatic bid and they came up short there. Their record is too flimsy (30-26 overall) and their RPI is too low (71) to earn them any points with the NCAA Selection Committee.  What might have been if Iowa had gotten off to a better start this season -- they entered Big Ten play at 7-11 after a bevy of early-season losses. Given the way they were playing at the end of the season, I don't think it's a stretch to say that Iowa was better than their 30-26 record and it's a shame they weren't able to perform then the way they are now -- a few wins over the likes of Dallas Baptist or Missouri State would have really helped their overall numbers and RPI.

Some better injury luck would have helped a great deal, too -- Peyton and Mathews were very good on the mound for Iowa last year but they struggled to replicate that form this season due to injury. Elbow issues slowed Peyton for the first few months of the season, while Mathews' shoulder issues were a hindrance all year. Both ended the season with some of their best performances, which is nice, but also raises the question of "what might have been..." if they'd been healthier earlier in the season. Iowa also got dealt a rough hand by the Big Ten schedulemakers -- they played six of the other seven teams in the Big Ten Tournament while missing all three of the worst teams in the league -- but I don't know if that was a big hindrance to their RPI. Beating the hapless likes of Purdue or Northwestern wouldn't have provided too much RPI value, frankly.

In any event, this is it for Iowa baseball, which means it's time to say goodbye to the likes of Joel Booker, Nick Roscetti, Tyler Peyton, Calvin Mathews, Jimmy Frankos, Daniel Aaron Moriel, Eric Schenck-Joblinske, Luke Vandermaten, John Barrett and more. Many of them were Iowa's best performers this season and have been key to Iowa baseball's turnaround under Rick Heller.  Their contributions will certainly be missed. We'll break down what Iowa is losing and what they're bringing back for next year in another post this week.  For now, thanks for the ride, Iowa baseball.  It was rocky at the start and exhilarating at the end, even if it didn't have the ending that we hoped to see.