Starting pitching shines as Iowa sweeps wacky doubleheader
IOWA CITY, Ia. — There was nothing logical about it, other than it simply had to get done. With an uncooperative forecast once again plaguing Iowa City, the Hawkeyes had little flexibility in finding a way fit an entire series into a truncated window.
Iowa and Penn State started just short of 7 p.m. Friday. And they kept playing… and kept playing… and kept playing. The calendar had flipped to Saturday by the time this baseball marathon finally finished.
Backed by a pair of strong starts, the Hawkeyes swept Friday’s wacky doubleheader, 4-2, in the opener and, 8-2, in the nightcap at Duane Banks Field. A 50-minute rain delay kicked off the evening and pushed the start of Game 2 to a few minutes north of 10:30 p.m., with action concluding just before 1:30 a.m.
After flopping at home last weekend versus Rutgers, the productive night gives Iowa (26-15, 8-6 Big Ten) its third conference series win this season. The Hawkeyes could land their first Big Ten series sweep on Saturday at 2 p.m.
“We talked with the weather people, and I said, ‘Hey, am I crazy?'" Iowa coach Rick Heller quipped. "'Tell me if I am, because I’m going to propose that whenever we start Game 1, we just keep rolling.’ The temperatures were going to stay fairly moderate, and the wind wasn’t going to blow nearly as hard as it’s going to blow (Saturday).
“And they said, ‘No, if you want to try to play a doubleheader at some point during this weekend, that will be your best time.’ And so in talking to (Penn State coach) Rob (Cooper) and the umpires, we decided if we could get Game 1 started close to 7 o’clock — and it wasn’t pouring rain at the start of Game 2 — then we would roll with it.”
On an elongated night, starters Nick Gallagher and Ryan Erickson more than pulled their weight, each chewing up innings to help limit usage of a short-handed bullpen. Gallagher struck out a career-high 10 hitters and yielded just one earned run over eight in the opener, and Erickson followed that up with 7 1/3 innings of one-run ball.
Over 18 frames, Penn State (14-28, 2-12) mustered just nine hits.
“Starting off, we didn’t even know if we were going to be able to get one in today,” Gallagher said, “and then, it worked out where we had a window we could do it. We were talking about playing two, but we didn’t really know if it was going to happen or not.”
The Iowa offense, meanwhile, did just enough early and poured it on late. Four straight single-run innings did the trick in Game 1, while a four-run second spearheaded the Game 2 outburst.
Mitchell’s Boe’s two-run double in the second and RBI triple in the third supplied Erickson with an early cushion, and freshman Grant Judkins capped off an evening full of obscurity with his first collegiate homer.
The doubleheader sweep slides the Hawkeyes up to fifth place in the crowded Big Ten standings, with a chance to jump up higher should they win Saturday. But on an evening where unconventional became reality, the Hawkeyes responded to adversity well.
“Toughness, just toughness from our team,” Erickson said. “Obviously, it wasn’t the most ideal conditions for either team, but we really stepped up.
“We needed this. We needed to get a series win out of this. It was huge.”
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.