Iowa eliminated from NCAA Tournament by Missouri State

By Jim Connell
For the Register
Iowa Hawkeyes Nick Roscetti goes airborne after a collision with Missouri State's Matt Fultz as he slid into second base in game six of the NCAA Division I Baseball Regional in Springfield, Mo. on Saturday, May 31, 2015.

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- There wasn't much more that Nick Hibbing could have done for the Iowa baseball team on Sunday at the NCAA Tournament's Springfield Regional.

But it still wasn't enough for the Hawkeyes to avoid elimination.

Hibbing pulled off a heroic effort to help Iowa stay alive with a 2-1 victory over Oregon on Sunday afternoon, then came on in relief early against host and national No. 8 seed Missouri State in the night game before faltering.

The season ended for Iowa (41-18) on Sunday night with a 3-2 loss to the Bears, who advance to this weekend's Super Regional round.

And it ends a memorable second season for coach Rick Heller, who led the Hawkeyes to their first NCAA Tournament victory since 1972.

"It's huge for the program," Heller said. "We're the only Division I school in our state, and the people in our state have really supported us, from fans to the high school coaches and junior college coaches. All the baseball people in our state have jumped on board with us.

"We knew if we did some things, we could turn this around, and we've done that."

This weekend, it was Hibbing at the forefront. He was named the Outstanding Player of the Regional for his mammoth efforts.

Hibbing kept the Hawkeyes in it against Missouri State, relieving starter Connor Grant just four hitters into the game. The bases were loaded with one out when Hibbing came in, and he got out of the jam with only a sacrifice fly, then held the Bears without a hit before leaving after giving up a leadoff single in the seventh inning.

Iowa couldn't muster much more against Missouri State starter Jordan Knutson, with a two-out walk to Tyler Peyton in the fourth inning and a one-out single from Nick Roscetti in the fifth the only players to reach through the first six innings.

It was the third consecutive dominant performance by a Missouri State pitcher in the regional tournament. Jon Harris struck out eight and gave up one run on three hits in an opening victory over Canisius, then Matt Hall baffled the Hawkeyes on Saturday night, striking out 11 in eight innings in a 5-3 victory.

Knutson gave up one hit and one walk through seven innings, leaving after giving up a pair of singles to open the eighth.

And Hibbing was just as impressive. He finished up Iowa's 2-1 victory over Oregon in the Sunday afternoon elimination game to send Iowa into the championship series, coming on with the bases loaded and none out in the bottom of the ninth inning of a 1-1 game.

He struck out Oregon DH Brandon Cuddy, then got Daniel Patzlaff to ground into a double play to end the inning and give the Hawkeyes new life.

Iowa capitalized in the 11th, when Nick Roscetti reached on a fielder's choice, was balked to second base and scored on a close play at the plate when Daniel Aaron Moriel ripped a two-out, two-strike single to center field. That gave the Hawkeyes a 2-1 lead.

Hibbing (4-2) finished with 20 pitches against Oregon, striking out three in three hitless innings. Then he turned in 52/3innings of hitless ball against Missouri State, fanning eight before leaving in the seventh. In all, he gave up one hit and struck out 11 in 82/3innings of work between the two games.

"This was a special day for me," Hibbing said. "We didn't pull it out, which was the No. 1 thing, so that's upsetting. I just went out there, didn't ask how many pitches I had thrown or anything like that.

"It's my senior year, so I just went out there and tried to block everything out and give our team the best chance to win."

After the Hawkeyes chased Knutson in the eighth inning of the Missouri State game, they finally struck, with Nick Day driving in a run on a bases-loaded groundout. They loaded the bases again and scored when Tyler Peyton drew a bases-loaded walk, but Bears closer Bryan Young got cleanup hitter Kris Goodman to strike out swinging to end the threat.

In the ninth, Young worked around a leadoff hit-batsman, retiring Joel Booker on a flyout with the tying run at second base.