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IOWA SPLITS FINAL GAMES WITH RUTGERS, LOSES FIRST B1G SERIES

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Wrapping up the regular season.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Let's briefly put a bow on the regular season for Iowa, a campaign that ended on a slightly bitter note but was on the whole a smashing success beyond our wildest expectations when it began a few months ago.  Iowa won Friday, but suffered a second loss in three days to Rutgers, which also sent them to their first Big Ten series loss of the season.

Thursday's loss to Rutgers in the series opener dashed any hopes of a regular season Big Ten championship, but Iowa responded very well to that loss on Friday, jumping out to a big early lead with a 6-run second inning on their way to a convincing 10-3 win.  That second-inning scoring binge was fueled by five straight singles, which made the score 2-0 Iowa before a bases-clearing triple from Eric Toole boosted Iowa's lead to 5-0.  Tyler Peyton added another single to score Toole.  Iowa added runs in the third and fourth to boost their lead to 8-0.  The run in the fourth was peak smallball: Jake Mangler got on base with a walk, moved to second on a balk, then moved to third on a groundout, and finally scored on a single.  Toole (3/6, 3 RBI) and Dan Potempa (3/5, 2 RBI) were the top batters for Iowa, but every batter in Iowa's lineup got at least one hit in this game.

Those runs were plenty for Blake Hickman, who bounced back from a shaky effort in his last outing with a strong showing in this game.  He threw 70 pitches over 5 innings, giving up just two hits and sending Rutgers hitters down in order in three of his five innings of work.  Hickman's replacement, Brandon Shulista, had a rough go and briefly gave Rutgers their only bit of life in this game -- in just 1/3 of an inning he gave up 3 runs on 3 hits and a walk.  Rick Heller quickly replaced him with Nick Hibbing and Hibbing put the game on ice: 4 strikeouts and just 2 hits conceded over 3.2 innings of work.

Iowa headed into Saturday's game with a chance to win the series, which would have been 8 straight series wins in Big Ten play.  It also would have given Iowa a 20th win in Big Ten play, a truly stunning number.  Alas, it wasn't meant to be.  Rutgers closer Jon Young got a rare start and impressed, scattering six hits and two runs over his five innings of work.  The differences in Iowa's hitting in Friday's game and in Saturday's game should serve as a perfect example of what happens when Iowa doesn't get timely hitting.  Iowa batters drew five walks and grabbed 15 hits on Friday, turning that into 10 runs.  But their bats didn't cool off that much overall on Saturday -- they still drew four walks and grabbed 12 hits.  Unfortunately, those hits and walks only combined to give Iowa 2 runs; they left 13 men on base, which proved very costly.  Tyler Peyton (2/3, 2 walks) and Daniel Aaron Moriel (3/4, 1 RBI) were the leading hitters for Iowa.

Calvin Mathews wasn't at his sharpest for Iowa yesterday, but he wasn't terrible, either -- he conceded 3 runs on 5 hits and a walk in 4 innings.  That's not great, but it would have survivable if Iowa's batters could have scored a few more of those runners in scoring position.  Luke Vandermaten replaced Mathews and was excellent, giving up just 2 hits over 4 shutout innings.

Dropping two of three to Rutgers was disappointing, but it hardly casts too much of a shadow on what was otherwise a fantastic regular season for Iowa.  A regular season Big Ten championship would have been an absolutely incredible accomplishment, but Iowa's odds of catching the Illinois juggernaut weren't very good before the weekend began.  The biggest harm to result from Iowa's losses to Rutgers was probably to their hopes of hosting an NCAA Tournament regional in a few weeks.  Iowa had been projected as a regional host heading into this weekend's games, but losing two of three to a middling Rutgers team doesn't help their cause.  Their RPI has dropped to #29 and they may have lost a hosting opportunity to Houston.

But we'll have to wait and see how things shake out.  If nothing else, though, I'd say that Iowa definitely needs to put together a strong showing in the Big Ten Tournament to shore up their hosting credentials.  Then again, let's stop and take a second to appreciate the fact that a) we're disappointed that Iowa might have damaged their chances of hosting an NCAA regional because b) holy crap, they've been good enough this season to possibly get to host an NCAA regional.  That's pretty incredible.  This has been a very fun season for Iowa baseball -- and it's certainly not over yet.