The baseball regular season is over, and the Hawks finished strong like they needed to, sweeping Penn State in their final series before heading to Omaha for the Big Ten Tournament.
After dropping two of three games last weekend against Northwestern, the Hawks couldn’t afford another loss if they wanted any chance at making NCAA Regionals as an at-large bid. On Wednesday, they took care of business against Western Illinois, and with this weekend’s sweep of the Nittany Lions, Iowa still finds itself somewhere on the bubble. More likely than not, they’re still on the outside looking in, but by winning their last five games of the season, they haven’t been completely eliminated from contention.
The best case scenario, of course, is for them to just win the Big Ten Tournament again and earn the Big Ten’s auto-bid to a Regional location. Without getting too far into it, Iowa draws Michigan in the first round of the double-elimination tournament, a team that they already beat two times out of three earlier this season. From there, they’ll meet Purdue or Ohio State, the latter of which they also took two of three games from this season (of course, they didn’t play Purdue in 2018). For whatever it’s worth, Iowa’s already pretty familiar with the field in general, as they played five of the seven available opponents in their tough conference schedule, and they held their own against most, with their only series loss coming to Minnesota.
Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s take a look at how Iowa got to this point and how they finished the season strong against Penn State.
Game 1: Iowa 3, Penn State 1 (Box Score)
This was definitely the most stressful game of the weekend, and after a really slow start, it looked like this could be another long weekend for a team that seemed as though they might be trending in the wrong direction ahead of the Big Ten Tournament.
As we’ve all grown to be accustomed to, Nick Allgeyer was absolutely lights out to open the series. The lefty threw seven shutout innings, allowing just five hits while striking out six and walking two. In fact, Allgeyer didn’t allow an extra-base hit in this game, as he scattered five Nittany Lion singles through his outing. In a year where the biggest issue seemed to be how Iowa’s new starters would fare, Nick’s been a stud, and dare I say it, better than either Nick Gallagher or Ryan Erickson were in 2017. You’d assume he’s going to pitch against Michigan on Wednesday in the Big Ten Tournament, and I’m fully confident in his ability to get Iowa in line for a W if/when he does. He’s been so good.
The issue in this one looked to be the bats, which had gone cold. Iowa got on the board first in the sixth inning, as an error, a walk, and a single put Iowa into a bases loaded situation. Mitchell Boe was able to come through with a great at-bat, one that ended in an RBI walk to plate the first run of the game.
Penn State was able to come back and tie things in the eighth off Zach Daniels, but this time, the bats were quick to respond. Kyle Crowl drew a leadoff walk and was chased home a couple batters later by a Ben Norman double. Norman would be chased home himself two batters later when Chris Whelan knocked a single to right field, increasing Iowa’s lead to 3-1, which is where things would stick.
All-in-all, the first game of the set was a bit tighter than Iowa would’ve liked, but a win is a win, and they’ve been able to grind out tough wins all year long when they needed them. This was definitely a tone-setter for the weekend, as Iowa really wouldn’t look back for the rest of the series.
Game 2: Iowa 9, Penn State 1 (Box Score)
COLE MCDONALD BACK.
The Iowa righty made his first appearance since exiting a game with an apparent elbow injury, and while things initially sounded like he might be on the shelf for a while, it turned out that the injury wasn’t serious and he only had to miss a couple starts. McDonald made it through four shutout innings before he reached a predetermined pitch count, ending the afternoon by allowing just one hit and fanning seven. It looks like Heller is going to use him as the starter in Iowa’s second game of the Big Ten Tourney, and for good reason - after a fairly rough start to his 2018, he’s been as locked in as anyone on the mound and gives Iowa a great chance to win.
At the plate, Iowa got things started in the fifth, when they jumped on Penn State for five runs. After the Hawks loaded the bases, Tyler Cropley knocked in two runs with a single to left field, and after an Austin Guzzo HBP loaded the bases again, Matt Hoeg took the opportunity to knock his own single into left, driving in two more runs to extend the lead to four. Iowa would be able to bring home a fifth run the very next batter when Guzzo was able to trot home on a passed ball.
Penn State was able to score a run in the sixth off Grant Judkins, but the sophomore was otherwise incredibly solid in relief of McDonald, going five innings to finish the game out for the Hawks. Judkins gave up just two hits and more impressively, struck out eight with zero walks. If he can pitch like this down the line, he’s likely to find himself a spot in Iowa’s future rotation and more immediately, he could be a weapon for the Hawks come tourney time.
Of course, we’d be remiss not to mention the other four runs Iowa scored in the seventh inning. Once again, the Hawkeyes loaded the bases and were able to take full advantage of the situation, as Whelan was hit by a pitch to bring home a run. A couple batters later, with the bases still loaded, Tyler Cropley was able to clear the bags with a double to right-center, extending Iowa’s lead to 9-1.
Game 3: Iowa 8, Penn State 4 (Box Score)
Unfortunately for Penn State, who ended this season 3-21 in conference play, they played another baseball game on Sunday, and it didn’t turn out much better for them. Unfortunately for Iowa, they were forced to play Penn State at all, because playing (and sweeping!) the Nittany Lions dropped their RPI three spots. It dropped! RPI is dumb as hell, but I digress.
Instead of sending Brady Schanuel out for a weekend start, Rick Heller opted to start Jack Dreyer on Sunday, with good results. Schanuel has been struggling for the better part of the Big Ten season, and Heller decided to try something new against an inferior opponent. Dreyer ended up going six innings, allowing two runs (both earned) on two hits while striking out six. Schanuel ended up pitching an inning in relief, sending Penn State down in order. Both looked really good!
The bats picked up right where they left off on Saturday, and Iowa took advantage of a couple big Penn State errors to plate five runs. Rather than explain the errors, fielder’s choices, etc. and make you incredibly confused, here’s the play-by-play from that inning:
Penn State scored a couple in the fifth, Iowa scored a few more in the sixth, and PSU scored one in the seventh and ninth innings. This one was over in the second inning, though.
Iowa takes on Michigan on Wednesday at 9 a.m. The game will be aired on Big Ten Network. We’ll be sure to remind you with a How to Watch post on Wednesday morning.