Iowa baseball: Hawkeyes get series sweep they need over Minnesota
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Despite how lopsided the matchup may seem, demanding a weekend sweep is a tough ask for any baseball team. College level, major leagues — doesn't matter — outplaying the same foe for three straight days just doesn't happen often.
That said, Iowa baseball needed the brooms versus lowly Minnesota. The Hawkeyes' RPI was going to dip just taking the field against the Big Ten's cellar-dweller, much less if they stumbled even once. Things became a bit more difficult with a Saturday rainout, forcing Iowa to sweep a Sunday doubleheader if it wanted a perfect weekend.
The Hawkeyes did so with ease. And now, the bit of postseason momentum established during this productive stretch can continue growing.
Sunday's showing saw the Hawkeyes blast four homers in a 6-1 opening win, only to follow that with a seven-run first inning in the finale. The 18-0 drubbing in the nightcap gave Iowa (12-9) its first Golden Gophers sweep since May 2015.
This series win won't be a resume enhancer or postseason talking point if the Hawkeyes get to such a spot. But what it does is keep a program going in a positive direction after several early hurdles. Iowa has now strung together three consecutive series victories in winning eight of its last nine.
Moreover, the Hawkeyes never let Minnesota (4-17) bring them down to wallow in the RPI mud. College baseball's all-important postseason metric began the weekend with the Gophers 258th, more than 50 spots worse than any other Big Ten team. Minnesota closed Sunday at 264.
Iowa, meanwhile dropped from the low 50s to 67 even with the sweep. That's still second-best in the conference, but there's no telling how far the Hawkeyes would've fallen with a Sunday sputter. Thankfully for coach Rick Heller, his bats continued surging like he hoped.
"I firmly believe this offense will kick in at some point and make things a little bit easier," Heller said after Friday's 6-1 win, which featured few Iowa hits but a big one in Peyton Williams' grand slam.
Message received. Even with Sunday's weather only slightly improved from Saturday — hold the rain, keep the whipping winds and dropping temps — Iowa came out swinging. The Hawkeyes clinched the series with homers from Dylan Nedved, Ben Norman, Brett McCleary and Zeb Adreon, which accounted for all six of the runs.
The finale didn't feature the long balls, but still plenty of power. Four straight two-out doubles in the first — via Trenton Wallace, Austin Martin, Brendan Sher and Norman — had Minnesota in its bullpen with fans barely in their seats. Iowa followed with a five-run second to eliminate all doubt.
The offensive outbursts gave two rising arms plenty of cushion. The Hawkeyes are trying to find consistency behind Wallace in their weekend rotation, and what gifts for right-hander Drew Irvine and southpaw Cam Baumann. The two Sunday starters scattered a combined four hits and one run over 12 robust frames. Iowa will need those two sharp in games to come.
Series like these have tripped Iowa up in recent seasons, part of why the Hawkeyes haven't returned to the NCAA Tournament since their 2017 appearance. Iowa needs to replicate this showing with more winnable weekends up ahead.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.