BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — It was always going to take everyone.
From the big-name boppers to the under-the-radar arms, and everyone in between, Iowa needed every piece to pull its weight and then some to conquer the Big Ten Conference Tournament beast.
Iowa arrived to Sunday's championship game tattered and battle-scarred after a 13-inning semifinal against Minnesota. Decked out in the bright gold, a fitting attire with a title on the line, the Hawkeyes emphatically ended a grueling week with a well-balanced effort and some conference bling.
The Iowa bats rolled early and late, and forgotten starter Drake Robison was magnificent in a pinch, lifting the Hawkeyes to their first Big Ten Tournament title in program history with a 13-4 win over Northwestern at Bart Kaufman Field. Iowa, which only had three regional appearances before Rick Heller’s arrival in 2014, will now head to their second NCAA postseason in three years — another first-time benchmark.
"It’s just a fun group to be with," Heller said, "They jelled, they clicked. No one really gave us a shot, but we found a way to get it done."
After a 24-inning, two-game baseball marathon on Saturday that saw Iowa play more than eight hours, the Hawkeyes desperately needed lengthy pitching from somebody. Robison got the first call. Three to four innings would’ve sufficed.
But he brought the extra muscle.
"I knew, eventually," Robison said, "the ball was going to be in my hands for us to win something.
"And I wanted to be ready for that situation."
The Ole Miss transfer tossed a career-high seven innings of one-run ball, yielding just four hits and three walks with six strikeouts. This was a pitcher who spent a good portion of the early season in the weekend rotation, but was eventually booted to the bullpen after a string of poor outings. Robison struggled there as well and was ultimately removed from high-pressure situations.
His recent numbers were rather sloppy — 13 runs over his previous 10 1/3 innings — but the right-hander was brilliant against the Widlcats, retiring 13 of the final 17 Northwestern hitters he faced.
Under Robison's watch, only one Wildcat was in scoring position after the third.
"The one thing I knew with Drake,” Heller said, “was he wasn’t going to be afraid.”
The offense, meanwhile, started and ended loud. Iowa scrapped five across in the first on three hits and three walks to knock out starter Matt Gannon, then went to work on the bullpen. A run in the fifth made it a 6-1 advantage before the power showed up with a pair of late Jake Adams homers, resulting in seven Iowa runs from the seventh inning on.
The first baseman's late long ball action pushed him into a tie for the national home run lead with 27. After starting the tournament 1-for-12 with just one RBI and a plethora of strikeouts, Iowa's sweet-swinging slugger closed 5-for-9 with three dingers.
"Everybody has slumps ... but you've got to stay focused," Adams said. "You can't beat yourself down because that's when it's going to hurt you the most. You got to stay focused on what your end result is going to be. Made a quick adjustment and came out today ready to go."
A year after falling in the title game to Ohio State, Sunday’s demolition capped off another storied surge through the Big Ten postseason. The Hawkeyes ripped through the conference’s Nos. 4, No. 1 and No. 3 seeds before taking out a scorching Northwestern squad, which upended Maryland in the other semifinal to start Sunday’s action.
But these Hawkeyes weren’t stumbling this round.
They had overcome too much, like the slew of early pitching injuries that put the rotation in a hole. They had shown too much resilience, winning each of their first three tourney games by two runs or fewer. There was too much passion, too much dedication to this week to let it slip away.
"Our seniors really pinpointed that at the beginning of the year," Adams said, "that this is what our end result wants to be. They didn't want to get second anymore."
"So we worked that much harder."
And it took everyone.
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.