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Iowa Baseball wins two games in weekend series over Illinois

News of Iowa baseball’s early demise were premature

Alex Kroeze/Daily Iowan

For the second weekend in a row, Rick Heller’s Iowa baseball team performed admirably against one of the Big Ten’s best teams. Last weekend, it was a series tie against the Indiana Hoosiers thanks to a weather cancelled rubber match. This weekend, the Hawkeyes took two games against the No. 22/25 ranked Illinois Fighting Illini. The Hawks record on the season is now 16-9 overall, and the team is 3-2 in Big Ten play. It’s the team’s first series road win over a ranked opponent since 2015, and all of the team’s conference wins have come against ranked opponents. This was also the third year in a row that the Hawks have won multiple games against the Illini. Nice!

Are we ready to call this a trend yet? We’ll see, but this was probably the most promising weekend of the young (middle-aged?) season so far for Rick Heller and company.

Game 1: Iowa 8, Illinois 5 (box score)

The Hawks kicked off the series with an explosive offensive performance.

Trailing 2-1 in the 3rd inning, the bats came alive for the Hawks, who jumped to a 6-2 lead thanks to singles that brought Mitchell Boe and Chris Whelan on the bases. Robert Neustrom, who scored the game’s first run on a wild pitch, then widened the lead even further with a single of his own that brought Boe and Whelan home. Tyler Cropley followed Neustrom’s RBI with a walk, and Kyle Crowl and Austin Guzzo hit doubles before Justin Jenkins hit a sacrifice fly that widened the lead to 6-2.

Those five runs caused the Illini pull starting pitcher Quinn Snarkis after only a few innings, and it looked like it would be a breeze from there, especially when Nuestrom hit his 5th home run of the season to extend the lead even further to 7-2.

But the Illini didn’t quit. They earned two runs in the sixth and another in the seventh to cut the lead to only two. They also managed to load the bases in the seventh and eighth innings, but Iowa reliever Zach Daniels had no issue with it, thanks to a double play in the seventh and a late strikeout in the eighth.

“I thought our at-bats up and down the lineup were quality. Neustrom is heating up and Cropley has been good for us all year. We are starting to get the offense going and it has just taken us a while to get there. Zach Daniels did a good job battling for us at the end and we were able to hold off for the win,” Heller told Hawkeye Sports after the win.

Game 2: Illinois 13, Iowa 12 (Box Score)

A seven-run final inning wasn’t enough to earn an Iowa victory in this high scoring game, but there are some good offensive takeaways from it regardless.

This one looked bad early: the Illini lead by 10 runs after three, thanks to nine runs they scored in the single period.

But the Hawks chipped away at the lead over the course of the remaining innings and trailed 13-5 going into the final inning. A Tanner Weitrich three-run homer got the bats off to a good start in cutting the deficit. Zion Pettigrew followed it by batting Luke Farley home, and a Chris Whelan single and a Robert Neustrom RBI cut the Illini lead to 13-11.

Iowa’s final run came from a Tyler Cropley sacrifice fly with two outs, but Kyle Crowl was struck out before the comeback could come to fruition.

This would have been a great win for the Hawks, but I think some laud for effort is merited here. This team is starting to prove its worth in the final moments of the game, but early deficits are also not going away.

Game 3: Iowa 4, Illinois 2 (Box Score)

The Hawks found themselves trailing once again in this game, but this time only by two runs after five innings. Iowa cut into the deficit in the sixth thanks to a one-out single from Guzzo and a Ryan Thompson RBI that tied the game.

In the seventh, Cropley batted home Chris Whelan, who had a bunt single and had stolen second base. Cropley responded with a stolen base of his own that allowed Crowl to bring him home for the 4-2 lead that secured the series victory for the Hawks.

This game was on BTN, so let’s check out some highlights!

On Deck

Iowa’s next game is again on Wednesday. They’ll host Grand View at Duane Banks Field at 6:05 p.m. CST before the Ohio State Buckeyes come to town for a three-game weekend series. The Buckeyes are currently 19-8 and 2-1 in B1G play.

It’s going to be a cold week for April in Iowa, so if you plan on heading out to watch some #Hellerball, bring a jacket.

I’ll leave you with this interesting stat:

Sure, the team struggled early in the season, but the strength of schedule is there for the Hawks if the conference wins keep coming. A postseason run is certainly not out of the question.