Iowa baseball: With fans back at Duane Banks Field, Hawkeyes crush Minnesota in series opener

Dargan Southard
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — The standard for "baseball weather" in Iowa is a low one, especially when the general public has been shut out of Duane Banks Field for more than a calendar year. Low 50s with a nagging wind would do just fine on this day.    

It was on Iowa to deliver a worthy performance. One massive wallop from Peyton Williams was more than enough. 

The Hawkeyes finally broke free from a mound duel with a six-run fifth-inning, capped by Williams' emphatic grand slam deep into the midwestern night. Iowa rode that wave to a 7-1 win Friday that pushed the Hawkeyes (10-9) over .500 for the first time in 2021.

“Tonight was a toughness game," Iowa coach Rick Heller said. "We found a way to get it done. It wasn’t the prettiest — but we found a way — and that’s what good leadership will do for you and toughness will do for you.”

Iowa's Peyton Williams (45) celebrates after hitting a grand slam home run during a NCAA Big Ten Conference baseball game against Minnesota, Friday, April 9, 2021, at Duane Banks Field in Iowa City, Iowa.

With its first bit of postseason chatter surfacing this week — Iowa was the first team out in D1Baseball's latest NCAA Tournament projection — Heller's squad certainly didn't want a dud to start a winnable weekend. A Minnesota team sporting an unsightly RPI (258) could wreck the Hawkeyes' momentum in a hurry. 

The Gophers (4-15) stayed locked on Iowa's hip for four-plus innings, holding the Hawkeyes hitless while stringing together scoring chances on the other end. Williams put a stop to that. 

With two runs already in via Matthew Sosa's RBI groundout and Brendan Sher's sacrifice fly, Williams settled in looking to make Minnesota miscues count. Two hit batsman and a walk loaded the bases. The burly basher from Johnston salivated as a 1-1 hanging slider sailed over the plate. 

“We knew he liked to go to that slider,” Williams said, “and so I got the hanging slider that I was looking for — and kind of just took a swing at it.”

A quality bat flip and jubilatory jog immediately followed. Iowa suddenly had a six-run inning on just two hits.      

More than enough to make the strong mound work stick. There wasn't much power behind most of Minnesota's nine hits off Trenton Wallace, who surrendered a bunt single, multiple infield knocks and a few outfield bloops in another strong outing. The southpaw anchor made up for the tough luck by repeatedly navigating out of trouble.

The Golden Gophers put two in scoring position in the first, only for Wallace to end the threat with a key strikeout. He did the same when Minnesota found two more baserunners in the next frame. Similar threats in the fifth and sixth were halted with inning-ending punch outs. 

“The main goal when we started scouting Minnesota was not to let the hits frustrate you,” Wallace said. “They did a great job tonight of putting the ball in play. Might not have been the hardest contact, but there were some balls that found holes. The main thing for me on the mound tonight was not letting those hits get to me. Continue to compete and trust my defense.”

Wallace finished with six scoreless innings, limiting Minnesota to 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position en route to stranding 10 on base. The Davenport Assumption product dropped his Big Ten-best ERA to a measly 1.87.

With a doubleheader on deck Sunday after Saturday's game was rained out, the Hawkeyes will look to keep surging this weekend after a riveting open. 

“The guys are fighting hard,” Heller said.

Dargan Southard covers Iowa and UNI athletics, recruiting and preps for the Des Moines Register, HawkCentral.com and the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Email him at msouthard@gannett.com or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.