IOWA CITY, Ia. – The Iowa baseball formula — timely hitting and air-tight pitching and defense — was tried and very true, from start to finish on the home schedule.
The 15th-ranked Hawkeyes polished off a three-game sweep of visiting Minnesota, piecing together a 7-1 victory Sunday before 1,224 fans at Duane Banks Field that went as well as could be scripted.
"It doesn't always happen that way," second-year coach Rick Heller said of the Senior Day victory, which capped a 17-3 home regular-season record in 2015. "I've been a part of a lot of good teams where this day, because of all the emotion and wanting to win so badly in your last home regular-season game, things didn't go so well. These guys just went out and played their normal game."
The Hawkeyes drew seven walks and struck out just once.
Runs were manufactured. There was a successful double steal. Senior stalwarts Eric Toole and Jake Mangler drove in two runs apiece.
For the third consecutive day, Iowa's starting pitcher gave up one earned run.
And then, there was the sparkling defense.
"That's what Coach has really been preaching — just play good, solid defense behind our pitching," said shortstop Nick Roscetti, who started a 6-4-3 double play to help reliever Nick Hibbing escape a sixth-inning jam. "Have them pound the strike zone, and just make plays behind them."
About the only thing that didn't go well this weekend for Iowa was scoreboard-watching. Third-ranked Illinois reeled off its 24th consecutive win with a 28-13 pummeling of Rutgers. Iowa cannot win the Big Ten regular-season title without the Illini (43-6-1, 19-1) losing at least two of three games vs. Nebraska this week.
Still, the Hawkeyes (37-12, 18-3) have clinched at least a No. 2 seed in the May 20-24 Big Ten Conference Tournament at Target Field in Minneapolis — their highest seed since hosting the 1990 tournament as a No. 1 seed.
"There's nothing we can do about what Illinois does, but if something happens — they waver, somebody knocks them off — let's just make sure we're taking care of our business," Heller said. "We'll be there if that happens."
With Iowa's final Big Ten series starting a day earlier than usual (Thursday) at Rutgers, Calvin Mathews kept his workload down Sunday. He tossed five effective innings and expended just 68 pitches in improving to 5-1 and maintaining his ERA at 1.77.
"I think it was the smart thing to do," Mathews said, "not throw as many pitches today, with the lead that we had."
Again, this goes back to a perfect script. Heller kept pitch counts under 100 for No. 1 starter Tyler Peyton (91) and No. 2 starter Blake Hickman (95) and didn't use one of his top relievers in Luke Vandermaten all weekend.
A lot of the credit for that goes to Hibbing, who threw four scoreless innings for his sixth save. He hasn't walked a batter since Feb. 13, spanning 331/3 innings.
A senior, Hibbing was glad Heller gave him the option to start the ninth up six runs.
"He asked me if I wanted to roll again," Hibbing said. "I said, 'Absolutely.' I don't think I've ever said no to trying to finish a game."