Rick Heller describes Iowa's 12-1 victory in the team's final Big Ten Conference tune-up.
IOWA CITY, Ia. — The first pop arrived from the right side, the second from the left. Together, they bookended Iowa’s emphatic offensive showing on a nippy Wednesday afternoon, providing the perfect prelude to the Big Ten Conference slate.
After catcher Tyler Cropley delivered an instant boost with a first-inning grand slam, right-fielder Robert Neustrom followed suit in the third to hammer home a 12-1 blowout of Bradley at Duane Banks Field. The two blasts sailed well beyond the left-field flags and capped off a pair of six-run innings.
Then, the debate was on.
“I don’t know, man — Tyler put a pretty good jolt in the one he hit,” Neustrom said with a smile. "That was a pretty good swing.
“But you can never take away from an (opposite-field) home run (like mine).”
In its final tune-up before Friday’s conference opener against Purdue, Iowa (11-8) quickly had the bats ignited with a slew of early traffic. Against Bradley starter Ryan Hodgett, the Hawkeyes put five of their first seven hitters on in front of Cropley, who desperately needed a glimmer of offensive hope amidst a hefty slump.
The Iowa Western product entered Wednesday hitting a measly .143 (8-for-56) with just five RBIs, but Cropley nearly doubled that total on one swing, clobbering a 2-2 pitch out to hand the Hawkeyes a 6-0 advantage.
“‘Finally’ was kind of the key word there,” Cropley said. “I had a (home run) this weekend, but that one felt a lot better.
“You don’t see two grand slams in a game too often. And then when Robert did it, it was just kind of like, ‘OK, we can put some runs up here.’”
The bomb was part of a 12-1 victory over Bradley on Wednesday.
Neustrom’s damage arrived in a similar setting. After a single and four walks began the Iowa third, the southpaw-swinging sophomore cleaned up with an opposite-field blast that found another gear just before disappearing beyond the black padding.
With a 12-1 cushion, a throng of Hawkeye hurlers produced some much-needed clean outings after bullpen struggles plagued Iowa’s series loss at Kansas State. Freshman Grant Judkins was first in line, yielding just one hit and a run over three innings.
The Pella alum was rocked out of the bullpen against the Wildcats, but Judkins bounced back in a role he’s thrived in this season. The 6-foot-3 right-hander has a 4.84 ERA in four starts, compared with a 22.50 ERA in two relief outings.
The productive pitching carousel continued, with Elijah Wood, Zach Daniels, Shane Ritter, Nick Nelsen, Sam Norman and Kyle Shimp all throwing after Judkins. That unit tossed six scoreless frames, surrendering only three hits and two walks with 10 strikeouts.
“We had a few guys who we wanted to get back out there after rough outings at K-State,” Iowa coach Rick Heller said. “Pretty much all those guys did a nice job.”
Now, the focus is forward.
“We saw great displays of offense and defense today,” Neustrom said, “and if we can keep that up, I think everything’s going to be just fine (in conference play).”
Dargan Southard covers preps, recruiting, Iowa and UNI athletics for the Iowa City Press-Citizen, The Des Moines Register and HawkCentral.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.