Iowa baseball sweeps Indiana for first 3-0 Big Ten start in 21 years
Get out the brooms.
A six-run first inning, plus a pair of runs in the third and eighth innings, vaulted the Iowa baseball team to a 10-6 win and a three-game sweep over No. 19 Indiana on Sunday at Banks Field. The Hawkeyes defeated the Hoosiers 2-0 on Friday and 5-1 on Saturday.
Iowa is 3-0 to begin Big Ten Conference play for the first time since 1994.
"When you have an opportunity to win three on the weekend against one of the league favorites, and then take advantage of it, it's big," second-year Iowa coach Rick Heller said.
Paced by a two-RBI double from right fielder Joel Booker, the Hawkeyes sent 11 batters to the plate in the opening frame, producing six runs on five hits.
The Hawkeyes (17-6, 3-0 Big Ten) fended off several rally attempts by Indiana (16-8, 1-4) late in the game. Both teams traded scoreless frames in the fourth through seventh innings before the Hoosiers pushed across three runs in the top of the eighth to trim the advantage to 8-6. Iowa responded with two runs in the bottom half for the final margin.
Runners reached second and third with one out in the ninth, but Indiana was held scoreless.
Iowa starter Calvin Mathews allowed two runs in the first inning, but settled down. The right-hander yielded three runs on five hits while striking out two and walking three in four innings. Nick Hibbing recorded the win out of the bullpen, throwing three innings.
"Nothing really worked for me today, to be honest," Mathews said. "All I had was my fastball and I tried to locate that. It was a little rougher than I wanted it to be, but we got the win and that's all that matters."
Tyler Peyton went 4-for-5 with two RBI and two runs scored, while Eric Toole went 3-for-5 with two RBI. Kris Goodman and Nick Day also had two-hit games for the Hawkeyes.
Sunday was the opposite of Friday and Saturday's contests, which were low-scoring and dominated by Iowa starters Peyton and Blake Hickman. Iowa pounded out 16 hits Sunday. Indiana had 13 hits.
The Hoosiers didn't lose a Big Ten series last season, much less drop all three weekend games. Friday was also their first shutout suffered since 2013.
Iowa is proving its mettle on the mound and at the plate.
"When the pitching struggles, the bats pick them up, and when the bats struggle, pitching picks us up," Toole said. "You saw that this weekend. On Friday, we didn't have many hits, but Tyler Peyton battled his (tail) off. Today, Calvin struggled, we put up six in the bottom of the first, and then he got his confidence back.
"Everyone believes in everyone on this team."
The Big Ten title race is likely to be open all spring. Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Nebraska, and Ohio State are the headliners with the majority of the non-conference season in the books.
Nebraska swept Michigan last weekend, but every other team except Iowa and the Cornhuskers have at least one loss within the league.
Times have changed.
Iowa has posted a 10-14 Big Ten record each of the last three seasons, never factoring in the league discussion. Now, in Heller's second year at the helm, they are one of the favorites, especially after a three-game sweep over Indiana.
Keep those brooms handy, maybe.
"The game will dictate a lot of it, but you just want to be in a situation where you have a chance to win day-in and day-out," Heller said. "If we pitch like we're capable and continue to play the solid defense like we've been doing, we're going to have a chance, no matter what we do offensively. That's all you can ask of a team — be in it every single day.
"Good things will happen when you do that."
Reach Matt Cozzi at firstname.lastname@example.org or 319-887-5409, and follow him on Twitter at @matt_cozzi.