On Saturday night, Bloomington was a stage and the Hawkeyes and the Gophers were the actors. The first act was taken by Minnesota, a 9-3 win in what feels like a game played three days ago. The second, 7-5 by the Hawkeyes, who will play for a Big Ten Championship on Sunday afternoon (1pm CT, BTN).
When Iowa lost this morning, I was not exactly optimistic of their chances to win a second. I sort of felt its pitching was spent and the insane hitting had left the Hawkeyes for the tournament, a process that had started in the win over Nebraska and continued into the first game against Minnesota. Getting two wins would have still been an accomplishment and the season certainly wasn’t going to be looked at as anything other than a success.
Iowa got in a hole early on during the second game, trailing 4-1 and even though it was early, that feeling started becoming even stronger. Tyler Cropley had a nice home run in the second inning to make the score 2-1, but Minnesota had tacked on another two runs in the next frame while its pitching kept the Hawkeyes mostly in check.
Then, the third inning happened. Iowa got a run back off a Whelan groundout that still managed to score a run. Mason McCoy flied out during the next at-bat. With two away, Jake Adams stepped up to the plate. The same Jake Adams who was 1-12 in the tournament. The same Jake Adams who broke the Iowa record for home runs and was named the conference player of the year.
The same Jake Adams who proceeded to jack a homer and make the score 4-3. No, his long ball didn’t give Iowa the lead — that would happen later — but it seemed to give the team some confidence.
Iowa gave up one run after that long ball. Something seemed to shift after he blew the ball to smithereens and it shifted in the Hawkeyes favor. But it wasn’t just Jake Adams that won this game, far from it.
Matt Hoeg had a home run of his own during the fourth inning, giving us this excellent bat flip:
MEAN. Oh and he knew it was gone, too. Grant Judkins also had two hits for Iowa and while some of the heavy-hitters in the Iowa lineup weren’t able to get things going (Mason McCoy went 0-6, while Robert Neustrom was 1-6 and Ben Norman 0-4) other players were and it turned out to be enough.
Oh, and there was some excellent pitching performances.
Cole McDonald didn’t last long, but Kyle Shimp came in relief, giving three fairly solid innings. Zach Daniels was alright in the sixth, but once the seventh rolled around he was done, getting the Hawkeyes into a bases-loaded jam.
Enter Josh Martsching, who has been absolutely brilliant throughout this tournament. He had strong performances against Maryland and Nebraska, but he went so far beyond anything we’ve seen from him in this game that it was hard to believe. 5.2 innings. Just two hits. Constantly getting himself out of jams. It was brilliant work.
Shane Ritter came in and finished the job, earning a save and once again during this tournament, the Hawkeye bullpen came through. Though, to be fair, it wasn’t just the pitchers who were putting in the work — the Iowa defense was excellent in backing them up.
I mean hell, outfielder Chris Whelan took a ball to the face, stayed in the game and somehow did this:
I’m still in shock he managed to catch that. He’s seriously one tough dude. As the game wore on, however, Iowa managed to keep Minnesota at bay every single time it got even a small bit of momentum.
Iowa wasn’t perfect, by any means — especially once the game went into extras, but Minnesota became more and more hittable as the game wore on and it really on felt like a matter of time before they’d be able to strike.
Then Cropley — who is hitting .400 and who now has 3 home runs during this tournament — blasted another, putting Iowa up 6-5.
An error added an insurance run for the Hawkeyes, who were able to end the game in the bottom of the 13th. It was a 4:57 minute long slugfest that close throughout. Just like all of Iowa’s other games in this tournament throughout most of the past two seasons.
Speaking of which, Rick Heller is now 8-7 in the Big Ten tournament as Iowa’s coach and 6-3 in the last two years. He’s built the Hawkeyes into a consistent Big Ten contender in just four short years. That’s incredible.
Iowa will get a tired Northwestern or Maryland team that has to play what basically comes to a doubleheader tomorrow. The Iowa-Minnesota game went so late they had to push the second NW-Maryland game to 8 a.m. Sunday morning. Brutal.
But hey, Iowa gets to sleep in a bit and that just might make the difference come tomorrow afternoon.