IOWA CITY, Ia. — Planted inside the Duane Banks Field press box is a laptop that remains on one page — the weather radar. A powerful rain-wind mixture ripped through Iowa City on Monday night, and strong gusts lingered throughout most of Tuesday.
Such is baseball life in Iowa. And the Hawkeyes don’t mind.
The Iowa offensive firepower showed up early and late, bookending a Northern Illinois comeback that had things tight for much of the afternoon. But the Hawkeyes emerged with a 12-8 win that left the scorebooks messy, with the two teams combining for 23 hits and 34 baserunners.
After blowing an early 5-2 lead, Iowa (7-4) scored seven runs from the sixth inning on to secure its second home win this season. A two-run single from Robert Neustrom (3-for-5, two runs, three RBI) headlined a three-run sixth and put the Hawkeyes up for good, after Northern Illinois (2-10) had pushed ahead, 6-5. Iowa then tacked on three more in the seventh and another in the eighth to counter a late two-run homer from the Huskies’ Tommy Szczasny.
“It’s always good to see a fight when we go down like that,” Neustrom said. “Didn’t score for a few innings, and then we fired back; stayed consistent. It was really good to see.”
Iowa slipped into an instant 2-0 hole as Northern Illinois jumped on starter Grant Judkins in the first for two runs on three hits. But the 6-foot-3, 207-pound freshman quickly made his coach look good for letting him hit this start, responding with a two-run single in the bottom half that ignited a five-run frame.
“We’ve been wanting to get Grant more at-bats,” Iowa coach Rick Heller said, “but he’s always been on the board in relief. So we just made the commitment that he’s going to start midweek. That way, we can know when we can get him in there, and it helps us on the weekend.
“I think, moving forward, he’s going to have a big role with our offense. And as you can see, the future’s really bright for him, down the road.”
Judkins yielded five hits and five runs over three innings, also racking up two walks and five strikeouts on 63 pitches. He was much more effective at the plate, going 2-for-4 with a run scored and three RBIs.
After batting around in the first, Iowa had just two more hits until the sixth. But the Hawkeyes pushed through on a windy afternoon.
With a longer four-game series on the weekend horizon in Florida and rotation mainstay C.J. Eldred still questionable with an ulnar nerve issue, capitalizing on Tuesday’s home game provides a nice boost.
“This was a big swing game,” Heller said. “Now we’re sitting at 7-4, feeling good about yourself heading south.”
Dargan Southard covers preps, recruiting, Iowa and UNI athletics for the Iowa City Press-Citizen, The Des Moines Register and HawkCentral.com. Email him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.