Eric Toole propels Iowa baseball to win over Minnesota
Eric Toole is the veteran of the Iowa baseball team.
The senior center fielder is one of four team captains, having logged the most career games of any player on the roster. He contributed as a freshman and is in his third year as the starting center fielder and leadoff hitter.
Toole propelled the Hawkeyes time and time again, including Friday in a 7-3 win over Minnesota at Duane Banks Field in Iowa City, as No. 15 Iowa (35-12, 16-3 Big Ten) continues one of its best seasons ever.
Toole finished 2-for-5 with three RBI. His two-out two-RBI single in the sixth inning extended Iowa's lead from 4-3 to 6-3, ultimately putting the contest out of reach for the Golden Gophers. The single also vaulted Toole into the top spot in career singles in school history with 197. He is fourth all-time in total hits.
"It's an accolade I was working towards this season, but I'm going to put it behind me until the season is over," Toole said. "We have to finish out strong. Put the team first then once this season is over I can look back on it and enjoy it more."
Both teams traded scoreless first and second innings before Iowa posted three runs in the bottom of the third. Toole's RBI single and Kris Goodman's two-RBI single highlighted the frame.
Minnesota (19-27, 7-12) scored two runs in the fifth inning and then tied the game at 3 in the sixth before Iowa opened the line score with three in the sixth and one in the seventh.
Iowa starting pitcher Tyler Peyton threw seven innings, allowing three runs on six hits while walking one and striking out five. Ryan Erickson pitched two scoreless innings out of the bullpen to finish.
Minnesota starter Ben Meyer allowed six runs on seven hits in 52/3 innings, walking three and striking out five.
"It was a good Friday night win, especially against a quality arm like Meyer," Goodman said. "He made some really good pitches on us, but we had some big hits with two outs. We had good at-bats against quality pitching."
Back to Toole.
Here is a player who brings perspective to Iowa's turnaround, both in numbers and personally.
In Toole's freshman and sophomore campaigns, the Hawkeyes were a non-factor in the Big Ten and beyond. Iowa went 23-27 and 10-14 in the Big Ten in 2012, and 22-27 and 10-14 in 2013. They were 10-14 again in conference play last season but finished 30-23 overall.
This spring is a different story — especially for Toole. He's had clutch hits and been on SportsCenter for catches he's made in center field.
"This has been amazing," Toole said. "The first two years, the highest win total we had was 23. Last year (head coach Rick) Heller comes in and we win 30 games. You can see right away he was making moves, he was turning the program around.
"This year we're already at 35 wins. It's just been a fun ride."
If this season is any indication, Heller's club is due for another series win following Friday's series opener. The third game of the three-game set Sunday is also Senior Day, another reason to reflect on Toole and the Hawkeyes' success.
Even if Heller may not want to yet.
"I'm just trying not to think about him not being here next year, to be honest with you," Heller said. "He's going to be irreplaceable. He's an outstanding player. He's done it for four years. Just in my short time, the improvements he made from this year to last year have been big. … His game has really stepped up to another level.
"When he has a great weekend, we usually have a great weekend."
Reach Matt Cozzi at email@example.com or 319-887-5409, and follow him on Twitter at @matt_cozzi.