Robert Neustrom discusses his walk-off homer in Sunday's 11-10 win over Ohio State.
IOWA CITY, Ia. — It had been a few minutes since Sunday’s chaos had subsided, and still, all Rick Heller could do was laugh. Iowa baseball’s head man has been around the block — 30 seasons coaching, the last 18 in Division I — but even he couldn’t believe what had just unfolded.
Stuck in another early hole against lowly Ohio State, the Hawkeyes were heading down an unfavorable path, one that planned to zap any late-season momentum Iowa had accumulated. With each passing Buckeye run, what was supposed to be a stroll to the Big Ten Conference Tournament was turning into a potential dogfight.
Then, the Hawkeyes erupted. One blast woke them up. Another pulled them back even. A third sent the gold-clad crowd into jubilation.
Robert Neustrom’s two-run walk-off homer in the ninth capped off a frenzied rally, as Iowa clawed out of a seven-run hole for an 11-10 win on Senior Day at Duane Banks Field.
The Hawkeyes (31-18, 13-8 Big Ten) faced a 9-2 deficit late — but answered with three in the seventh, four more in the eighth and two in the ninth to stun the Buckeyes (20-32, 7-14).
“We kept telling them, ‘Don’t quit, don’t quit,’” Heller said. “’Just keep fighting.’”
Neustrom clubbed the first pitch he saw over the center field batter’s eye, trotting home into a black-and-gold mosh pit along with Jake Adams — who opened the ninth with a single. It was the burly first baseman who first jolted the Hawkeyes back to life with a three-run homer in the seventh, which gave Iowa its first runs since the first inning and pulled it within three, 9-6.
Then in the eighth, after Heller’s squad opened the frame with three singles and a run, little-used utility man Corbin Woods stepped to the plate as the tying run with one out. One of six Iowa seniors honored before the game, Woods entered Sunday with just two hits in 18 games this season and one homer in 80 career at-bats. He’s battled through two arm surgeries and remains a team captain, despite not seeing much action.
Woods pulled ahead in the count, 2-1, then unloaded to left.
Tie game. 9-9.
"It’s kind of been a long road for me,” Woods said, “but I just kept plugging. Today, I just got out there and got a hack off. It was a special day — Mother’s Day, Senior Day. My family was able to be here, which was really special.
“My mother’s father, he used to coach here. Ken Charipar, he used to be a big-time coach here. She put this baseball card (of Charipar) in my pocket before the game. My grandfather, he passed away about six years ago, and you’ve got to think he’s upstairs looking out for me. Unbelievable. This was probably the greatest moment of my life.”
After tagging Iowa starter Elijah Wood and Shane Ritter for eight runs over 3 2/3 innings to start — punctuated by Dominic Canzone’s second-inning grand slam — the Buckeye bats did little damage in the middle frames. Reliever Zach Daniels racked up eight strikeouts over 4 2/3, holding Ohio State to five hits and two runs.
He lasted into the ninth before giving way to Josh Martsching with the bases loaded and one out. The Buckeyes pushed one across on a sacrifice fly to grab a brief 10-9 lead, but Martsching mitigated the damage.
Then came Neustrom’s final blow.
“I’ve been struggling at the plate and just wanted to do something really special when I got up that last AB,” Neustrom said. “First pitch, I said, 'I’m hacking if it’s there.’”
The win sends Iowa to the Big Ten Tournament for a fourth straight season and gives them an outside shot at clinching a regular-season title in the final weekend. With three games left at Illinois, the Hawkeyes sit two games behind first-place Nebraska in a log jam atop the conference.
They’ll need wins and some help for a title, but Sunday’s improbable win should provide some rejuvenation.
“A huge team win,” Neustrom said. “Everything just added up.”
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 email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.