We’re in the final two weeks of the season and Iowa is a lot closer to a Big Ten Tournament berth after winning two of three against Michigan State in East Lansing this past weekend.
Before we get into the recap, let’s take a look at the Big Ten standings.
In a crowded Big Ten race, beating Michigan State in a three-game set has major ramifications for the fourth place Hawkeyes. The Spartans, who currently occupy the eighth spot in the Big Ten standings (and therefore hold the final tournament berth), face an uphill battle if they want to pass Iowa in the standings - they’ll need Iowa to lose at least five games in order to have a chance at passing them in the standings (unlikely), so the Hawkeyes can feel a little bit safer knowing that there is one less team that is likely to have the power to bounce them from the tournament after their series victory.
Iowa still has yet to play Illinois and Ohio State, the teams in 10th and 11th place in the standings, respectively. Better yet, they can assure themselves that no one currently on the outside looking in can finish with a better record than them if they win three of those six remaining games. They definitely have to be going to sleep soundly knowing that they hold their fate in their hands against teams in the basement of the Big Ten.
Their magic number, for all intents and purposes, looks to be three.
Game 1: Iowa 3, Michigan State 2 (Box Score | Highlights)
Late inning magic has been a theme of Iowa’s season, and this game followed that trend as Iowa was able to win the first game of the series in the 9th.
Nick Gallagher didn’t have his best stuff in this one, but he was able to be effective all afternoon as he scattered nine hits over seven innings of work. The only run he allowed all day came on an RBI double off the bat of Zack McGuire in the fourth inning, but he was able to work around the many hits he gave up all afternoon and he had a solid outing. Josh Martsching, who pitched two innings of one-run ball, was credited with the win.
On the offensive side, the Hawks weren’t able to get much going, but did just enough to eek out the win. Grant Judkins drove in a run with a groundout in the fourth, and Mason McCoy hit his third home run of the year to give Iowa the lead in the sixth. After Sparty tied things up late, Tyler Cropley drove in the go-ahead run with a single in the ninth to score Jake Adams for the third and final run of the day for Iowa.
A quick aside about Tyler Cropley, who went 2-for-3 in game one - dude is absolutely EN FUEGO right now. Iowa’s catcher was hitting around .200 for most of the season, even falling under that line on a few occasions. He’s brought his batting average up to .270 now and he might be the best hitter on this team outside Jake Adams. He’s getting hot at just the right time as Iowa is making their playoff push.
Game 2: Michigan State 2, Iowa 1 (Box Score | Highlights)
Another close game, but Iowa wasn’t able to come up with some more late inning magic to steal this one from Michigan State.
Ryan Erickson got the nod for Iowa, and the senior continued his torrid performance with his fourth straight quality start. Despite pitching in a losing effort, Erickson one-upped Gallagher’s performance from game one, going seven strong and allowing one run on five hits. Zach Daniels earned the loss despite not giving up an earned run as a costly Mitchell Boe error gave the Spartans the lead in the eighth.
The offense sputtered for the second consecutive day as they only tallied five hits in the middle game of the series. They scored their lone run of the game in the sixth, when Robert Neustrom chased home Mason McCoy on a sac-fly to right. Centerfielder Ben Norman was the only Hawkeye to record a multi-hit game.
Game 3: Iowa 9, Michigan State 4 (Box Score | Highlights)
Iowa saved their runs for the rubber match of the series and was able to win this one big, taking advantage of four Michigan State errors on their way to the dub.
Elijah Wood started in what has now become a regular Sunday role, and the Hawkeyes went with a bullpen-by-committee strategy that was effective enough to shut down Michigan State. Wood went 32⁄3 innings, giving up one run on four hits before being pulled, which is about on par with what he’s accomplished in his other recent starts. Josh Martsching earned the save and was the only one of the four Iowa pitchers to not allow a run, as Nick Nelsen and Kyle Shimp gave up two and one runs, respectively.
Jake Adams started the scoring for Iowa in game three with a first inning RBI double, but the rest of Iowa’s runs came courtesy of a little small ball. The other eight runs the Hawkeyes scored in this one all came courtesy of an RBI single or an out that turned into runs, which is good to see. Chris Whelan, McCoy, Adams, Cropley, and Boe all had multi-hit games and Cropley knocked in four runs in a career day for him to seal the series victory for Iowa.
It’s already been mentioned, but Iowa will head home to face Ohio State in a three-game series this upcoming weekend. The Buckeyes are 6-12 in the Big Ten and 11th in the conference standings.
Ohio State comes to town with just a .247 team batting average, but they do have some pop in those bats - they have 11 players who have at least one home run on the season, although none that have more than six. They also have a low on-base percentage at just .339, so it appears as though they can become pretty reliant on the long ball in order to generate runs.
On the mound, it appears as though they’ve struggled to find consistent starters - only one of their pitchers has made at least 10 starts, while eight others have started at least once. That sounds similar to Iowa’s situation, although the Hawks have had a lot more luck with those that they’ve been forced to put into a starting role if you compare OSU’s and Iowa’s stats. Their staff isn’t great overall, as at least half their pitchers have an ERA of at least 5+ to show for their efforts.
This is a team that Iowa should have the ability to take a series from, if not sweep. They don’t really blow you away on the mound and they shouldn’t fare well against Iowa’s strong pitching staff. By the end of the weekend, the Hawkeyes could very well have clinched a tournament berth. Let’s ride.