The Iowa third baseman delivered a two-out, walk-off homer to beat Ohio State at the Big Ten Tournament. Chad Leistikow/HawkCentral.com
MINNEAPOLIS – Iowa baseball's magical ride added even more distance Wednesday afternoon, and it was the most thrilling 365 feet yet.
Every odd was stacked against Nick Day in the bottom of the ninth inning in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament at Target Field, the biggest one being the back pain that he carries with every trip to the batter's box.
The fact that Day was facing a two-strike count in the bottom of the ninth, his team down one against Ohio State's all-time saves leader made No. 15 Iowa's 3-2 win on Day's two-run, walk-off home run all the more improbable.
"Pretty tough to think that was going to happen," Iowa coach Rick Heller would later say.
During the victorious at-bat, Heller remembered thinking back to an April 1 game at Western Illinois when Day put a memorable charge into one swing.
"He hit a ball at Western Illinois that was probably 460. I was sitting in the third-base box saying, 'Western Illinois, Western Illinois,' hoping he'd run into one," the second-year coach said. "It's amazing that he did."
The Iowa coach discussed Day's back injury and the power he is capable of. Chad Leistikow/HawkCentral.com
Amazing can describe 2015 for the second-seeded Hawkeyes (39-14), who are nearing their first 40-win season since 1985. Next is a 5 p.m. Thursday showdown against No. 3 seed Michigan (34-23), with the winner skipping Friday's consolation session and moving into Saturday's final four. The Big Ten championship game is at 1 p.m. Sunday.
If it weren't for Day, Iowa would've been stuck in a 9 a.m. Thursday game vs. Indiana, with the loser there being the first one out of the eight-team Big Ten Tournament.
"It's just this big sigh of relief," Heller said.
Ohio State right-hander Trace Dempsey, who twice was one strike away from his 34th career save (he walked pinch-hitter Eric Schenck-Joblinske on a 3-2 pitch before Day came up), threw a slider on the inside corner.
Day's swing caught it just right. The senior from Solon wasn't trying to swing for the fences, he said. But he pulled the ball over the Cargill sign in left field at the home of the Minnesota Twins.
"He gave me a couple fastballs to hit early, and I don't know why I didn't swing at them," Day said. "I was expecting a slider late. It was a pretty decent pitch. I don't know how I got to it. I'm still kind of shocked."
The fact that Day, who Heller calls maybe the best defensive third basemen in the conference, is even in the lineup defies the odds. Day's back was in such pain after Iowa's April 12 game at Maryland, he took some time off hoping it'd improve. It didn't.
Finally, on May 3 in the series finale against Michigan, Heller returned Day to the lineup anyway.
"They said, you're a senior. If you can tolerate the pain, tough it out," Heller said. "That's what he's been doing.
"He's playing in a lot of pain right now."
Day had been 3-for-27 since returning, until he poked an opposite-field single to right field against Ohio State starter Travis Lakins.
"Yeah, I've been struggling," Day said. "With the first hit, I hadn't had a hit in a while. I was a little more confident, I would say, going up to the plate my last two at-bats."
And, well, that confidence brimmed into Iowa's sixth walk-off win of this hard-to-believe year for a program that has spent most of hte last 25 years near the bottom of the Big Ten.
The only two walks Iowa drew Wednesday? Both guys scored. This team grinds, and keeps moving on — even after things looked gloomy when Ohio State took a 2-1 lead on Pat Porter's solo homer off reliever Nick Hibbing in the eighth.
"It just shows, not just Nick, but this whole team never gives up," said Iowa starter Tyler Peyton, who pitched 6 1/3 strong innings Wednesday. "We never stop fighting."
- Iowa 2nd: Kris Goodman walks. Grant Klenovich singles to centerfield, Goodman to second base. Nick Roscetti bunts to pitcher, runners to second and third base. Jimmy Frankos grounds out to first base, Goodman scores, Klenovich to third. Joel Booker strikes out. Iowa 1, Ohio State 0.
- Ohio State 7th: Zach Ratcliff doubles to CF. Jake Brobst runs for Ratcliff. Aaron Gretz singles to RF, Brobst to third. Tre' Gantt flies out to RF, Brobst scores. Craig Nenning singles to RF, Gretz to second. Nick Hibbing relieves Tyler Peyton. Grant Davis reaches on groundout to 2B, Nenning out at second, Gretz to third. Troy Montgomery strikes out. Iowa 1, Ohio State 1.
- Ohio State 8th:Pat Porter homers to deep RF. Ohio State 2, Iowa 1.
- Iowa 9th: Nick Roscetti strikes out. Jimmy Frankos flies out to RF. Eric Schenck-Joblinske walks. Nick Day homers to left. Iowa 3, Ohio State 2.