Iowa baseball's hot start to the season kept up last weekend, with a 3-game sweep of Our Most Hated Rival, the Purdue Boilermakers. Purdue resides at the bottom of the Big Ten Conference this year, so beating them isn't quite the feather in our cap that the sweep of their fellow Hoosier state team Indiana was, but there's plenty of value in accumulating wins and taking care of the games you're "supposed" to win as well.
Iowa began the series with a dominant 9-1 win over Purdue, behind another tremendous start from Tyler Peyton. Peyton went 8 innings, giving up 7 hits and 1 run while striking out 7 Purdue batters. Iowa's batters rocked Purdue's pitchers to the tune of 15 hits in that win, so it's hard to single out anyone in particular, but SS Nick Roscetti (3/4, 3 runs, 3 RBI) and CF Eric Toole (2/5, 1 hit, 2 RBI) certainly deserve recognition. Peyton helped out his effort at the plate, too -- he went 3/5 (!) and scored a run for the Hawkeyes. I think it's fair to give him Man of the Match honors for that performance.
Iowa's perfect start to Big Ten play was in jeopardy in the second game of the series with Purdue -- OMHR took a 4-2 lead over the Hawkeyes into the 8th inning. Fortunately, one 8-run rally (!) later and Iowa had a lead they would not relinquish on their way to a 10-5 win. Iowa loaded the bases in the 8th with two singles and a walk, then scored the first run when Daniel Aaron Moriel got hit by a pitch, forcing in a run. Roscetti banged in a 2-run single to give Iowa a 5-4 lead. 2B Jake Mangler and Peyton (playing 1B in this game) added 2-run singles later in the inning to complete the damage for Iowa. Blake Hickman recorded the win for Iowa with another pretty solid start: 7 IP, 5 hits, 4 ER, 4 strikeouts.
Iowa closed out the sweep with a 4-1 win on Sunday. Once again, the Hawkeyes got a strong outing from their starting pitching -- this time Calvin Mathews went 6 IP, giving up 5 hits and just 1 run while striking out 5 batters. Connor Grant and Nick Hibbing combined to throw three innings of shutout baseball to close out the win for Iowa. The Hawkeye bats were a little quieter in this game, although Peyton (2/4, 1 double, 2 RBI) and Roscetti (2/3, 1 run, 1 RBI) were strong at the plate once again.
With those wins, the current Big Ten standings look like this:
Some real GO IOWA AWESOME right there, folks. Shit is about to get very real for the Hawkeyes, though -- this weekend brings a 3-game road trip to take on 3rd-place Maryland in College Park. We'll get a very good sense of how Iowa stacks up to another top team in the league with those games. Your regular BHGP baseball correspondents will be back to preview those games later in the week.
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Meanwhile, all this winning means that Iowa keeps climbing up the rankings, too. After cracking the Collegiate Baseball poll at #24 last week, the Hawkeyes rocketed up to #15 this week after a 4-1 week. That lofty ranking has Iowa as the highest-ranked northern team in the polls (ahead of #16 Missouri, #18 Illinois, #19 Nevada, #20 Oregon State, and #21 Maryland... if we consider them "northern," at least). We are KINGS IN THE NORTH! Luckily, that went title went well for the last person to claim it, as I recall...
Hell, they're even showing up in college baseball bracketology predictions for the NCAA Tournament. There's still a lot of baseball to be played before we can start seriously thinking about an NCAA Tournament trip (which would be Iowa's first since 1990), but it's fantastic that such an idea is not just pure fantasy at this point, too. These are truly heady days for Iowa baseball.
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Iowa returns to action tonight with a game against UW-Milwaukee tonight at Duane Banks Field in Iowa City. The Panthers are 14-9 overall, with their best wins being their three-game sweep of Missouri in Columbia in the beginning of March. Milwaukee enters this game on a 3-game winning streak, including taking two of three games from Valparaiso (7-6 and 7-3) and a 7-0 blanking of Wisconsin-Superior. Iowa is starting relief pitcher Connor Grant (1-1 with a 3.63 ERA so far this season), while Milwaukee is starting the dreaded TBA. Grant gave up two runs on three hits in his last start against Western Illinois, a disastrous 16-5 loss for the Hawkeyes. Milwaukee is hitting .295 as a team, with three hitters posting averages above .300. Their star player is two-time Horizon League Player of the Week Sam Koenig who is absolutely tearing the cover off the ball this year: he ranks in the top two in the nation in batting average (.462), slugging percentage (.857), and on-base percentage (.555).
If you live in or around Iowa City and haven't been to a game yet, there's an added incentive for you to do so tonight -- Iowa's offering free admission if you show them the offer below:
BONUS! Here's a nice article about Iowa's excellent start to the season.