Freshman makes Heller's surprising decision look good

Chad Leistikow

OMAHA, Neb. — Give a freshman his second career start in Iowa’s biggest game of the season?

Why not?

That was the decision Rick Heller and his Hawkeye baseball coaching staff made in a nearby hotel room late on the eve of Saturday’s Big Ten Conference tournament game against Maryland.

And like everything of late for the Hawkeyes, it worked perfectly.

Shane Ritter gave Heller three good innings, and Iowa cruised to an 11-0 victory and into Sunday’s Big Ten title game.

“I wasn’t surprised,” the Plainfield, Ill., native said of the text message he received late Friday night with the news. “That’s what I came to school for, to pitch. Just doing my job.”

Iowa freshman Shane Ritter gave the Hawkeyes three solid innings in Saturday's 11-0 win over Maryland. He allowed three hits, one walk and struck out one.

Heller said the debate of starting Ritter or senior Calvin Mathews continued until about midnight.

“I’m the guy that always plays devil’s advocate,” Heller said. “So I was making all the guys sell me on the rationale behind it. I made the decision. My thought was, if we happened to lose this game, I just told Calvin, I’d rather have him in an elimination game."

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The hope was that Ritter — who had thrown only thrown 8⅓ innings in Big Ten play — could deliver 3-4 innings. He answered the challenge.

An offspeed pitcher, Ritter kept fastball-hitting Maryland off balance. He faced 13 batters and got through three scoreless innings before being pulled after giving up a leadoff single in the fourth, with Iowa ahead 3-0.

Heller then went to the primary pitching plan. Nick Gallagher threw six dynamic innings of relief to complete the four-hitter.

“Nick Gallagher’s one of the best, if not the best, relievers in the Big Ten,” Ritter said. “Going to him, I knew after three or four innings, we had this in the bag.”