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Clutch gene: Iowa baseball takes down two top-25 opponents in dramatic fashion

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Iowa took down No. 20 North Carolina and No. 14 Duke in Minneapolis this weekend.

NCAA BASEBALL: JUN 03 Houston Regional - Iowa v Texas A&M
Rick Heller’s team showed off its ability to perform in crunch time yet again.
Photo by Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Iowa baseball earned the nickname “Hellerball” after gritty performances under head coach Rick Heller, and that’s exactly what happened over the weekend.

Iowa traveled to Minnesota for the Cambria College Classic, facing No. 8 N.C. State, No. 20 North Carolina, and No. 14 Duke — a gauntlet of a three-game weekend.

The Hawkeyes fell in their first game, losing 10-6 to the Wolfpack on Feb 28. Iowa allowed 10 runs on 10 hits. Iowa trailed 6-5 heading into the eighth inning but gave up four runs, essentially sealing the deal.

But Iowa responded incredibly well over the next two games. Trailing 4-0 heading into the bottom of the ninth, the Hawkeyes rallied four runs to send the game to extra innings.

Then, in the bottom of the 10th, catcher Austin Martin hammered a walk-off home run to seal the deal.

“The baseball we played (earlier this season) is not what our team is built on. That’s not what we’re going to do this year,” Martin said in a release. “(Coach Heller) challenged us to bring out a different team (Saturday). We executed that challenge well, playing with energy.”

That same team showed up again on Sunday when Iowa took down Duke.

The Blue Devils had won their last nine games before facing the Hawkeyes, and it looked as though they’d reach 10 straight wins. Duke led 5-3 in the top of the seventh inning, but that’s when Iowa’s offense caught fire.

The Hawkeyes strung together three runs to go ahead 6-5. Izaya Fullard bombed a two-run homer to give Iowa its late lead.

Iowa added another run in the bottom of the eighth for good measure, and Duke could not counter.

Iowa pitchers Dylan Nedved and Grant Leonard held Duke to just one hit and no runs over the game’s final 2.2 innings. Leonard earned his third save of the season.

But arguably the biggest moment of Iowa’s win didn’t come during the late offensive outburt. Duke commanded a 4-2 lead in the sixth inning with the bases loaded and no outs.

Heller turned to pitcher Ben Beutel, who ended the inning without allowing another Blue Devil run.

“That was the ballgame to me right there,” Heller said in a release.

More takeaways from Iowa baseball’s three-game weekend

  • The Hawkeyes have the clutch gene (duh), but the scoring backs it up; Iowa scored 14 of its 18 runs this weekend in the seventh inning or later.
  • Iowa baseball now has 51 come-from-behind wins since 2017.
  • North Carolina pitcher Joey Lancellotti was insane on Saturday, giving up just one hit in seven innings and striking out six Hawkeyes. He had a no-hitter going through 6.2 innings.

Player of the weekend: Izaya Fullard

Fullard’s 3-for-4 performance — including his go-ahead home run in the seventh inning — in the weekend finale against Duke takes the cake. It was his second three-hit performance this season.

Fullard has some power to his game, as evident with his homer Sunday. This season, he and Peyton Williams are tied with a team-best two home runs. Fullard leads the Hawkeyes with seven RBIs, too.

What’s next for Iowa baseball?

Iowa hosts Grandview today at Duane Banks Field in Iowa City at 4:05 p.m. The game will be aired on BTN+.