After a great weekend series against Oklahoma State which saw Iowa win two of three games to receive a huge RPI bump, the Hawkeyes traveled to Northwestern this past weekend to take on Northwestern, the Big Ten’s 12th place team, where they lost two of three games.
After improving their RPI all the way up to 49th in the country (out of 297) with the big aforementioned series win against the Cowboys, the series loss to Northwestern very well might have doomed any chance for the Hawks to receive an at-large bid to NCAA Regionals. The Wildcats came into the weekend with a paltry RPI of 228, and with their two victories, were able to bump Iowa’s RPI down 15 spots to 64. Ideally, in order to make Regionals as an at-large team, you want to be somewhere in that 40-50 range, but now, with only games remaining against Western Illinois (who is BAD) and Penn State (3-18 IN CONFERENCE PLAY), there aren’t any opportunities for quality wins left in the regular season.
As it stands right now, the Hawks will probably have to win the Big Ten Tournament again in order to move on to Regionals. It’s a tall task, but not completely unheard of for Heller’s squad - they won it last year despite the lack of pitching options after Nick Gallagher and Ryan Erickson, and made it to the championship game against Ohio State in 2016 against all odds. The Hawks still haven’t locked up that Big Ten Tournament appearance, as they sit seventh in the conference and only the top eight teams make it (Michigan State and Maryland could theoretically both pass them in the standings), but assuming that they beat up on Penn State, they should be in with two wins.
Northwestern 7, Iowa 6 (Box Score)
Iowa led this one 3-2 going into the bottom of the seventh inning, but Northwestern was able to flip the switch on the Hawkeyes, starting with a solo homer to tie things up at three before taking a 5-3 lead going into the ninth.
The Hawks, never one to go down without a fight, didn’t go down easy. With two outs in the ninth inning, Justin Jenkins was able to knock a single to right field, allowing two runs to score and Iowa to send things into extras. In the 10th, it looked like Iowa might be able to pull of a victory, too - with two outs, Matt Hoeg hit a double, scoring one and putting runners on second and third with two outs. The Hawkeyes were able to load the bases on a walk, but Ben Norman couldn’t pull through, as he struck out to end the inning.
Not taking advantage would prove costly, as Northwestern was able to jump on Grant Leonard to take the first game of the series. The Wildcats were able to find some two-out magic of their own, with Jack Dunn finding the middle of the field to score two runs and secure the victory.
Northwestern 4, Iowa 0 (Box Score)
There isn’t a whole lot to say except that Hank Christie absolutely dominated Iowa on the mound in this one. The Northwestern pitcher went seven innings, allowing just four hits. He only totaled two strikeouts, but that worked to his advantage, as he allowed the Hawks to make contact all afternoon in an efficient outing.
Brady Schanuel struggled yet again on the mound, going only 2.2 innings and allowing three runs on three hits. Schanuel, who is now 5-7 on the season, hasn’t made it out of the fourth inning in six of his last seven starts dating back to March 31st. Not sure if it’s a crisis of confidence or something that’s nagging him, but it’d be nice to get more from him next weekend against PSU and in the tournament.
Iowa 10, Northwestern 7 (Box Score)
Jack Dreyer pitched a fine game for the Hawks in the series closer, going five innings and allowing three runs (none earned) on four hits. He’s looked pretty solid in his extended work in place of Cole McDonald, who’s expected back next weekend, and looks like he could be a worthwhile fourth option should Iowa get that far into the Big Ten Tournament later this month.
Meanwhile, the Hawks broke out at the plate in this one, with every starter reaching base at least once and all but one recording a hit. Ben Norman, Matt Hoeg, and Kyle Crowl all had multiple RBI, while Hoeg and Robert Neustrom went yard once apiece. The offense breakout came at the right time, as it gave the bullpen a bit of a cushion to keep Iowa ahead in this one and salvage a win on the weekend.
Iowa travels to Macomb, IL to take on Western Illinois on Tuesday. Western Illinois is 15-26 and has an RPI of 278.
Please beat the Leathernecks.