The Iowa Hawkeyes are rolling on the diamond. Heller’s club entered last weekend riding a 4-game winning streak and winners of eight of their last nine games, with a matchup against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, who sat just one spot below the Hawkeyes in the Big Ten standings. After starting the season with one of the most difficult schedules in the conference, Iowa had been climbing, but was still firmly in the middle of the conference pack.
Last weekend changed all that. The Hawkeyes took three of four in Piscataway to not only create separation from the Scarlet Knights, but also to climb all the way up to 4th in the Big Ten standings as they approach the downhill run of the schedule.
So how did the Hawkeyes look in the weekend trip out east following their pummeling of the Gophers last weekend? Good. Very good.
Things got off to a slow start on Friday as the Hawkeyes fell behind 10-6 in the sixth inning as starter Trenton Wallace had his most difficult start of the season. Wallace gave up five runs on four hits, six walks and five strikeouts in just four innings of work.
But the Hawkeyes came roaring back with a 7-run ninth inning. That included a 2-run single from redshirt junior Izaya Fullard to put the Hawkeyes in the lead. Iowa would never look back.
T9 | PATTTTTTTTTTYYYYYY!! @IzayaFullard23 comes through with a two-run single past a diving SS. WE'RE UP 11-10! #Hawkeyes pic.twitter.com/ADjf98EnjS— Iowa Baseball (@UIBaseball) April 16, 2021
Fullard finished the day 2-5 with a pair of runs and RBIs. Peyton Williams went 3-6 on the day with three runs and a pair of RBIs of his own. Dylan Nedved did it on both ends going 3-5 at the plate with a run scored and two RBIs, while closing out the game with a strike out in one IP. Senior Trace Hoffman (2-0) got the win as he went three innings, giving up a pair of runs on two hits.
The first game of Saturday’s double-header was a bit less dramatic. Iowa came away with an 3-1 victory as starter Drew Irvine went 7 innings giving up just 1 earned run on 6 hits while striking out 5 en route to his second victory of the season.
The Hawkeyes went up 2-0 in the third before Fullard knocked his first HR of the season to make it a 3-0 Iowa lead.
— Iowa Baseball (@UIBaseball) April 17, 2021
First HR of the year for @IzayaFullard23 and he knew it was gone. #Hawkeyes pic.twitter.com/a7n3MHi8AH
Irvine would give up his only run of the game in the bottom of the sixth, but Rutgers would never get the go ahead run on base as the Iowa starter would induce a fielder’s choice to end the game in the bottom of the 7th with two left stranded.
The afternoon matchup was less competitive as Iowa used a big 8th inning to blow things open. The Hawkeyes got another stellar pitching performance as starter Cam Baumann went 7 innings, giving up just 3 hits and 1 earned run while striking out 4.
Things were knotted at one each entering the 8th, but Iowa’s Ben Norman blew the game open with a 2-run single up the middle. Fullard added a 1-run double and the Knights walked in a fifth to make it 6-1. The Hawks added two more in the 9th for insurance on an Austin Martin double to get to an 8-1 final and make it seven straight for Heller’s club.
The music stopped for the Hawkeyes in the series finale on Sunday. Iowa jumped on Rutgers early, thanks to a 3-run bomb from Ben Norman that sent a Scarlet Knight over the fence chasing an out.
Ben Norman Big Fly!— Iowa Baseball (@UIBaseball) April 18, 2021
Three-run jack gives Iowa a 3-0 lead!@bnorman20 | #Hawkeyes pic.twitter.com/McHfpC9cU0
Martin drilled a ground-rule double in the top of the third to cap off a second straight 3-run inning and put the Hawks up 6-0. Rutgers would get a run back in the 4th and Iowa added an insurance run in the top of the 8th, but the game turned in the bottom of the 8th as the Scarlet Knights tagged Nedved for 5 in the bottom of the 8th. Four of those came on a grand slam from Evan Sleight.
Clinging to a 7-6 lead in the bottom of the ninth, Iowa turned to RS senior Grant Leonard who put the tying run on base with a HBP. The winning run would score on a fielding error as Rutgers took it 8-7.
Iowa’s starter Duncan Davitt had a career-high 7 strike outs in five innings of 1-run work. Leonard would take the loss in 1.1 innings of work. Norman capped off his stellar weekend with 4 RBIs and the HR. The Hawkeyes fall to 15-10 on the season with the loss.
For his efforts, Norman was named Big Ten Player of the Week on Tuesday. He finished with 8 RBIs and 6 runs to go with a pair of HRs.
Your #B1GBaseball #PlayeroftheWeek is Ben Norman of @UIBaseball ⤵️— Big Ten Baseball (@B1Gbaseball) April 20, 2021
⚾ Hit .400 with 2 home runs, 8 RBI and 6 runs scored in leading the Hawkeyes to their 4th-straight series win
⚾ Slugged .867 and posted a .474 on-base percentage in 4 games
➡️ https://t.co/wkryEP5NFB pic.twitter.com/D1vfpT9tSB
Despite closing out the series on a low note, the weekend was a resounding success for Iowa. The Hawkeyes climbed a staggering 27 spots in the college baseball RPI with the trio of wins on the road.
While the RPI is not a perfect measure, as we’ve come to learn in the basketball world, it is an indication of the direction this team is heading, and that’s a major positive.
College Baseball RPI - Big Movers this weekhttps://t.co/SIyTlbni4W— Warren Nolan (@WarrenNolan1) April 19, 2021
#14 Ole Miss +7
#24 Gonzaga +10
#28 Oregon State +10
#40 Iowa +27
#47 Nebraska +33
#50 Baylor +28
#52 VCU +53@OleMissBSB @ZagBaseball @BeaverBaseball @UIBaseball @Husker_Baseball @BaylorBaseball @VCUBaseball pic.twitter.com/j2LQZo10v0
Iowa also moved up from 7th to 4th in the Big Ten standings. That’s a big deal in a conference like this one, particularly given the schedule the Hawkeyes have played.
While Iowa has 19 games remaining on the schedule, just three of those - a series at Indiana - are against teams currently ahead of them in the standings. What’s more, just one game separates the Hawkeyes from the Hoosiers in third place.
A signature series win at Indiana would likely lock up a tournament spot for the Hawkeyes barring a collapse elsewhere. As it stands, Iowa has already put themselves in a very good position.
Just in from the @d1baseball Weekly Chat....@KendallRogers: “I think the Big Ten is pretty solid at the top. I think the league deserves four bids this year......Trenton Wallace and Iowa are most certainly postseason worthy.”— Kyle Huesmann (@HuesmannKyle) April 19, 2021
The Hawkeyes look to keep the strong momentum rolling this weekend as they play host to the Maryland Terrapins for a two-game set. Iowa swept Maryland in their first two-game series back in March.
Game one is set for 7:05pm CT on Friday and will be televised on BTN. Game two is at 1:05pm CT on Saturday and is available via BTN+.