Iowa thrills big crowd with walk-off win over Wildcats

Chad Leistikow
Baseball fans enjoy the Iowa vs. Northwestern game at Duane Banks Field on Friday.

IOWA CITY, Ia. – A monumental and magical night for Iowa baseball ended with the Hawkeyes somehow still in first place in the Big Ten Conference.

Jake Mangler's line-drive single to left-center field capped a three-run, ninth-inning rally by 14th-ranked Iowa, which defeated Northwestern 4-3 before 1,588 fans at Duane Banks Field.

Folks that have seen a lot of (often bad) Hawkeye baseball here over the years said it was the best (and biggest) crowd in a really long time.

The best part of it: Almost every seat was still full for the winning rally.

"In the back of my head, I was thinking, 'God, I hope we can do something like that,' " said second-year coach Rick Heller, the architect of a stirring program turnaround. "Because you want them to come back, and you want people to continue to come to the ballpark. And get people that haven't come in a long time to come back here, and see how much fun it can be."

Mangler, a senior second baseman from Clinton, said of the spirited crowd: "It's actually the first time I've seen that many people in the stands."

He had the chance to be a hero because of an unlikely one got the rally started against Northwestern starter Brandon Magallones, who had silenced the Hawkeyes for eight innings.

Heller called upon Austin Guzzo, a true freshman from Canada whose father was here for the first time, to pinch-hit to start the ninth. The reserve batted a seeing-eye single into right field for just his third hit since March 22.

"Just kind of rolled the dice, and felt like it might happen," Heller said.

Nick Roscetti singled to left to end Magallones' night. Pinch-hitter Sean Moore walked on a 3-2 pitch. Kris Goodman singled to left on another 3-2 pitch to make it 3-2, and the press box shook from the crowd's eruption.

Eric Toole lifted a sacrifice fly to center to tie it, then Mangler delivered his third hit of the night to score pinch-runner Corbin Woods. Game over.

"That's baseball for you. Find a way," Mangler said. "Find a way to keep putting runners on and find a way to keep getting them in."

One of the nation's top defenses kept the Hawkeyes in the game, as pitcher Tyler Peyton of Grimes battled through 6 1/3 innings before giving way to winner Ryan Erickson.

"Big-time defensive plays, and that's what won it for us," Heller said. "Tyler didn't have his good stuff tonight."

Iowa hasn't won the Big Ten in 25 years, and really hasn't come close — with 20 finishes of sixth or worse in that span.

These Hawkeyes, though, keep finding a way. They're 25-10 overall, 9-1 in the Big Ten — tied with Illinois, which also won Friday and own a two-game lead over Ohio State.

Saturday's 2 p.m. game against Northwestern (10-25, 3-7) gives Iowa another chance to wow its fans.

"The more support, the better," Peyton said. "It's going to keep building, hopefully."