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Rick Heller discusses Sunday's 13-5 loss to Rutgers

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IOWA CITY, Ia. — Rick Heller was up and moving early, hoping to find an answer with each slow trot to the mound. Against a bevy of Iowa pitchers, Rutgers came out firing on a spotless Sunday afternoon and quickly stuck the Hawkeyes in a crater-sized deficit.

The Scarlet Knights knocked around Iowa starter Cole McDonald and racked up a double-digit lead by the fourth inning en route to an emphatic 13-5 drubbing at Duane Banks Field. The loss marks the most runs the Hawkeyes (23-15, 6-6 Big Ten Conference) have yielded since April 1, 2015, when they suffered a 16-5 defeat at Western Illinois.

“The pitching in the early innings didn’t give us a chance,” said Heller, whose Hawkeyes dropped their second Big Ten series this year after winning the Friday opener. “When you give up eight runs in the first three innings — and I think we had probably seven or eight free bases on the mound — you don’t give yourself much of a chance.”

Rutgers (15-22, 4-5) wasted little time in roughing up McDonald, who lasted just two-plus frames and struggled with command all afternoon. He yielded four runs on just two hits — but walked four, three of which scored. The Scarlet Knights plated three in the first with two outs on a wild pitch and Chris Folinusz’s two-run double, then quickly jumped on reliever Drake Robison after McDonald exited in the third.

“It’s obviously disappointing,” McDonald said, “because we knew we could’ve came in here and took at least two of three — but we obviously wanted three to get the sweep since (Rutgers) is pretty low in conference.

“But we just didn’t get it done. It’s disappointing.”

Four of the first five hitters Robison faced reached safely, capped off by Nick Matera’s three-run homer that handed Rutgers an 8-0 advantage. Two more off Nick Nelsen in the fourth, and the Scarlet Knights had a 10-run cushion before the Hawkeyes recorded 10 outs.

As a whole, the McDonald-Robison-Nelsen trio surrendered all 13 runs over just four-plus innings.

“The first three guys who threw,” Heller said, “had about as bad of a day as you could possibly have.”

There were brief glimpses of Hawkeye life on Matt Hoeg’s fourth-inning two-run homer and Robert Neustrom’s three-run double in the fifth, but they did little in denting Rutgers' armor.

After an unproductive 1-3 week, the luster has faded a bit from the Hawkeyes’ impressive series win at Nebraska a weekend ago. Iowa suffered its first midweek loss in more than two years, then followed it up with this conference series loss to a below-.500 foe.

Injuries have depleted a chunk of Iowa’s pitching corps, but Heller doesn’t want to extend that excuse any further. He knows his Hawkeyes are better than Sunday’s outing — but something must change.

“We’re kind of at a crossroads,” Heller said. “We’ve got a lot of excuses. We’ve had adversity with pitchers being down all year — now we’ve had two more go down to where we’re looking at seven guys.

“And it’s, ‘What are we going to do? Is there somebody who’s going to step up, or is this what it’s going to be? All the hard work and effort that we put in to this point, is this it? Is this what it’s going to be from now on, or are we going to have some guys buck up and find a way to get it done?’”

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 msouthard@gannett.com or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.

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