Iowa 2 wins from Big Ten baseball title after stirring rally
OMAHA, Neb. — Iowa defied the odds to even reach the Big Ten Conference baseball tournament. And it's not done pulling surprises.
Iowa scored four runs in the bottom of the ninth to force extra innings, then pulled out a 5-4 victory in the 10th Friday against Ohio State in a wild second-round winner’s-bracket game at TD Ameritrade Park.
The Hawkeyes (29-25), who used a season-best five-game win streak to get here as the eighth and final seed on a tiebreaker, are now two wins away from a Big Ten title. They have two chances to beat Maryland (30-26) once on Saturday, the first coming at 9 a.m., to reach Sunday's 1 p.m. championship.
This is the 36th Big Ten Baseball tournament. Iowa has never won it.
“I couldn’t be prouder of the guys," Iowa coach Rick Heller said. "It was kind of the story of our season. Lots of times this year, we had the opportunity to give up and assume it was over. It just goes to show what you can do if you never give up.”
While Iowa's never-say-die spirit deserved credit Friday, so did Ohio State coach Greg Beals.
If he hadn't pulled dominant starter John Havird after eight innings, the Hawkeyes probably would've been the ones playing in a consolation game later Friday night.
Havird held Iowa to two hits and didn't walk a batter. But he was lifted after throwing 95 pitches and Ohio State (39-18-1) owning a 4-0 lead.
“He was up to a pitch count that track record says is about where he’s at," Beals said. "You give that bullpen a four-run lead, our bullpen’s been the identity of this pitching staff as much as anything. That bullpen has been so good to us. I thought it was absolutely the right thing to do.”
It was the wrong thing.
“I was surprised," Iowa's Tyler Peyton said. "I thought he was throwing great.”
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With a new pitcher on the hill, Hawkeye bats awakened. Peyton led off the ninth against right-hander Seth Kinker with a sharp single.
Nick Roscetti followed with a single to left field. Joel Booker singled to center. Bases loaded, no outs.
"We saw him great," Peyton said.
The hundreds of Hawkeye fans in attendance rose to their feet.
“Once (Peyton) got on, I knew we had something special that was going to happen," Roscetti said. "The whole dynamic of the team switched. Everyone just started believing right there.”
Mason McCoy singled to make it 4-1, but when Daniel Aaron Moriel grounded into a run-scoring double play to make it 4-2, things again seemed bleak.
But Austin Guzzo kept hope alive, singling to make it 4-3. Then Heller pulled a stunner: sending injured senior Jimmy Frankos to the plate against left-hander Michael Horejsei.
Frankos, who can't run because of a serious hamstring injury, was hit by a 2-0 pitch to put men on first and second. That brought up Devin Pickett, a rarely used fourth-year junior. He blooped a tying single off Ohio State closer Yianni Pavlopoulos for his first career RBI.
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In extra innings, McCoy's deep single to right-center field with the bases loaded ended it to give Heller his 100th win at Iowa.
Peyton was asked: Best win ever at Iowa?
“Remember that game last year against Ohio State?" he said to laughter. "It’s up there.”
That was a good reminder that Heller's Hawkeyes have Ohio State's number in this event. Nick Day's walk-off two-run homer a year ago beat the Buckeyes, 3-2, in an equally stunning finish.
But this one was probably more important. Iowa advanced to Saturday's final four, and the pitching staff is well-rested.
Because Peyton provided seven solid innings Friday, Iowa still has effective long relievers Nick Gallagher and Ryan Erickson fully fresh. Heller hasn't used closer Zach Daniels this week, and solid lefty Nick Allgeyer is available, too.
More than likely, Saturday's starter will be senior Calvin Mathews.
“We needed to find a way to win that one if we realistically had a shot to win the tournament," Heller said. "To be able to come back and do that gives us a legit shot.”
And with nearby Nebraska out of the tournament, Iowa has become the de facto home team, another bonus.
"In those late innings, it felt like a definite home-field advantage," Heller said. "The Hawk fans really came out for us. They were loud and made a lot of noise. That helped the rally for sure.”
BIG TEN TOURNAMENT SCHEDULE
Saturday’s games (*played late Friday; all games on Big Ten Network)
9 a.m.: No. 8 Iowa (29-25) vs. No. 6 Maryland (30-26)
1 p.m.: Resumption of Friday's ppd. game between No. 4 Ohio State and No. 5 Michigan (Ohio State leads, 5-2 in second)
5 p.m.: No. 7 Michigan State (36-18) vs. Michigan/Ohio State winner
9 p.m.: Iowa vs. Maryland, if necessary
9 a.m.: Michigan State vs. Michigan/Ohio State winner, if necessary
1 p.m.: Championship game (single elimination)
Eliminated: Minnesota, Nebraska, Indiana