Strong hitting led the way for Iowa Baseball on Tuesday en route to an 8-6 win (full box score here) over Northern Illinois at Duane Banks Field. The Hawkeyes faced a 3-0 deficit early and came back beginning in the third inning, thanks to 14 hits from the black and gold.
The Hawkeyes were led by strong performances from Tanner Wetrich, Yzaya Fullard and Austin Martin, who drove in six of the eight runs for the team.
Iowa’s first three hits came in the third inning, when they already had given up three runs in the second, thanks to a home run and two fielding errors. But the Hawkeyes scored two runs off of their three hits, and brought the game to a much more manageable 3-2 deficit. But a big double play from third basemen Tommy Szczasny at the top of the fourth brought in two runners, and just like that, the Huskies’ lead was back to three. But Iowa’s offensive output continued in the next couple innings, thanks to a sacrifice fly and a Wetrich home run.
Things started to look dire when the Huskies scored yet another run, this time from an RBI from right fielder Nick Drobushevich, bringing the score to 6-4. The Huskies absolutely feasted on Iowa starting pitcher in his 3 1⁄3 innings, after he allowed five runs, but this was the only run given up by Iowa’s bullpen. Seven Hawkeyes combined to tally 12 strikeouts to close out the game, with junior Trace Hoffman earning the win for his scoreless seventh inning.
For the Hawkeyes, the game was won on four hits in the eighth inning, with the go-ahead RBI brought home by Fullard. Besides the errors and the pitching issues, it was a strong offensive and closing outing for the Hawkeyes, and the team acknowledged it as such.
“It’s big for us confidence-wise,” Wetrich told Hawkeye sports. “You never want drop one of these games. It’s tough to come out with energy every game. We matched their energy today. It was a big game that we needed to win tonight.”
ICYMI: Coach Heller's comments and some of the highlights from Tuesday's win in Iowa City against Northern Illinois. Hawks and Huskers this weekend! pic.twitter.com/FMoEPwXELL— Iowa Baseball (@UIBaseball) April 17, 2019
Hopefully that confidence will continue on into the weekend, as the Hawkeyes host the Big Ten-leading Nebraska Cornhuskers for a three game series. Iowa will be looking for its fourth consecutive Big Ten series win. Schedule below:
Friday first pitch: 6:05 p.m. CT (Military Appreciation Day)
RHP Cole McDonald (3-3, 3.96 ERA) vs. RHP Matt Waldron (5-0, 1.76 ERA)
Saturday first pitch: 2:05 p.m. CT (Hawkeye Football Day)
LHP Cam Baumann (2-2, 5.31 ERA) vs. LHP Nate Fisher (4-1, 2.28 ERA)
Sunday first pitch: 1:05 p.m. CT (post-game egg hunt!)
RHP Grant Judkins (4-3, 1.95 ERA) vs. RHP Reece Eddins (3-2, 4.37 ERA)
Previewing the Huskers
Record: 21-11 (10-2 B1G)
Ranking: No. 30 nationally; 1st Big Ten
As you can probably tell from the info above, the Huskers are the Hawkeyes’ biggest task yet in conference play. Both of Nebraska’s conference losses came against Minnesota, and the team has only lost two out-of-conference games since, to Creighton and Kansas State. The Huskers have definite hitting power, but seem to struggle at times. In their three game series against Purdue, the Huskers scored 39 runs (including a 17-0 route in the first game) and only allowed nine total runs over the three games. But in their next game against Creighton, Nebraska gave up 10 runs en route to a 10-2 defeat. They couldn’t score a single run against Kansas State earlier this week, but turned it around the following day with an 8-5 win over Omaha.
This will be Nebraska’s first time visiting Iowa City since 2015, when the Hawkeyes earned a series sweep. Tonight’s pitcher Matt Waldon, as you can see above, is undefeated, with an ERA just below two, which leads the conference. He’s only walked four batters all season, and tallied 50 strikeouts. He’s easily the toughest pitcher the Hawkeyes will face this weekend, and runs will presumably be at a premium. The opportunities get easier as the weekend goes along, but Nate Fisher’s 2.28 ERA certainly looks a lot better than Iowa’s Cam Baumann’s 5.31.
Nebraska will also present a challenge with its offense. The Huskers have a batting average of .269, which is fifth best in the conference, but Iowa’s is right there at .263. Nebraska’s on-base percentage is a little higher at .380, which is second in the conference, and that’s really been helped by the team’s top hitter, Aaron Palensky, who is averaging .344.
Coming in at averaging just around 6 runs per game, Iowa will certainly have its work cut out for it. But Iowa is a strong home team, and if the pitching is there, and the bats continue to be alive, Iowa has a chance of winning its fourth straight conference series.
Also be on the lookout on Saturday, as it’s Iowa football day at the ballpark, and none other than former baseball standout Nate Stanley will be throwing some heat for the first pitch! This is certainly a big weekend for Iowa Baseball. Winning even a couple would push them up in the Big Ten rankings and hey, Rick Heller is 9-3 against Nebraska since he started. That’s pretty good! Let’s get some wins, boys!
How to watch
Friday and Sunday’s games will be available on BTN Plus, while Saturday’s game will be televised on the BTN mothership. You can also listen to all three games on the Hawkeye Radio Network.