IOWA CITY, Ia.— After a painful series loss at Northwestern that saw the Hawkeyes drop two after a blowout opening win, Iowa simply needed to get right Tuesday night. Another crucial weekend lies ahead, and Rick Heller certainly didn’t want any lingering negativity.
The Hawkeyes picked up just enough offense and largely kept Western Illinois off the scoreboard despite yielding double-digit hits, propelling Iowa to a 4-1 win at Duane Banks Field. The victory extends the Hawkeyes’ midweek winning streak to 19.
“Felt like the guys came to the park today with a good attitude, good energy — hop in their step,” Heller said. “It wasn’t a great game for us, offensively, but just enough to get it done.”
Although its lead never exceeded three runs, Iowa (20-11) kept the Leathernecks (9-21) at arm’s length all night. The Hawkeyes pounced first with a single run in the second, and tacking on two more in the fourth after Austin Guzzo singled home Ben Norman and Matt Hoeg plated Tyler Cropley with a sacrifice fly.
Cropley scored again in the sixth after a leadoff double, coming home on Hoeg's RBI groundout. That cushion was more than enough for Elijah Wood, who delivered three scoreless innings in his first start of the year. The 6-foot-3 junior made 20 starts in two seasons at Marshalltown Community College — but had been used mostly as a multi-inning relief arm in his inaugural Hawkeye season.
Wood picked up right where he left off as starter, yielding just two hits and a walk with two strikeouts.
“I was really pumped when I found out (I was starting),” Wood said. “Just got ready and went out there and did my best.
“Honestly, I would say (I feel more comfortable as a starter) — I’ve always kind of been a starter through high school and junior college, sophomore and freshman year. So, being a starter... it’s pretty comfortable to me.”
The Iowa bullpen delivered similar results. Freshman Grant Judkins surrendered a run in the fifth, but a crucial outfield assist from Robert Neustrom ended the frame and kept the damage minimal. Like Wood, Drake Robison tossed three scoreless frames as well, working out of a two-on, nobody-out jam in the seventh with two strikeouts and a timely pickoff.
Shane Ritter then capped it off with a clean ninth for his third save.
With surging Nebraska up next, the Hawkeyes delivered when they needed it most.
“This weekend was definitely a heartbreaker for us, dropping those two games … so this game was huge for us,” Guzzo said. “I think we did a good job making sure that we were ready to get back in the win column.”