HOUSTON — Nick Gallagher whipped his head around to observe the damage, hoping somehow, someway his mistake wouldn’t disappear into the Texas night. But he knew he hung one badly. His emphatic glove pounding full of frustration confirmed exactly that.
With two teams jockeying for control of the Houston Regional, the one pitch was the decisive blow in an exhilarating, nail-biting contest under the lights. Cole Bedford’s three-run homer in the fourth pushed third-seeded Texas A&M to a 3-2 win over the Hawkeyes on Saturday night at Schroeder Park, dumping Iowa into the loser’s bracket heading into Sunday.
It’s all elimination games now for the No. 4 seed Hawkeyes as they need to win three games in two days to advance to the super regionals, starting with a Houston rematch at 3 p.m. A win there would push Iowa into a second matchup against Texas A&M at 8 p.m. Sunday.
“We just have got to take it one game at a time,” Gallagher said. “We’ve been doing that a lot this whole year.”
Following back-to-back rough starts to end the regular season and start the Big Ten Tournament, Rick Heller opted to give his ace another day of rest in preparation for Gallagher’s most crucial start of the season. The right-hander responded for the most part — yielding six hits and three runs over 5 1/3 frames — but his fourth-inning traffic ultimately overshadowed any positivity.
After Texas A&M’s Hunter Coleman and Blake Kopetsky delivered one-out singles to commence the threat, Gallagher fell behind on Bedford, who unsuccessfully tried to get a bunt down on the 2-1 pitch. The Aggies then called an audible with two strikes, and the Texas A&M catcher cranked a hanging slider deep to left, circling the bases with a swift trot and a forceful yell.
“He did some damage,” Gallagher said. “Wish I could have that pitch back, but nothing I can do about it now.”
Rick Heller talks about Saturday's 3-2 loss to Texas A&M.
Iowa, though, had its chances early and late. The Hawkeyes pushed one across in the second on Mitchell Boe’s RBI single — but left three runners in scoring position over the first four frames.
Then in the ninth, Grant Judkins drew a leadoff walk against hard-throwing right-hander Cason Sherrod, who breezed through the teeth of Iowa’s order in the eighth on three strikeouts. A sacrifice bunt moved pinch runner Justin Jenkins into scoring position, and after a flyout, Boe seemingly had produced the game-tying hit with a rocket back up the middle.
But Sherrod got a piece of it to keep it in the infield, even though he bounced a throw to first to put men at the corners. Texas A&M then made a move to Kaylor Chafin, who got Chris Whelan to end things on a harmless pop to second.
"We got the hit," Heller said. "Mitch had the hit to drive in the tying run, and unfortunately, it hit the pitcher."
In between, Jake Adams clobbered his NCAA-leading 28th homer in the fifth to pull Iowa back within one — but the Hawkeyes couldn’t muster much else against Aggies starter Corbin Martin.
The right-hander settled in over the middle frames, surrendering just two runs and eight hits over seven strong innings. Adams’ blast, which gave him the Big Ten single-season home run record, was one of just three hits Iowa had after the fourth.
"We wanted to get into the ‘pen before they went to their backend guys,” Heller said. "We had (Martin) at 72 pitches in the fourth or fifth, and then we went two or three innings in a row where we let him off the hook. We didn’t grind out at-bats, and then, there he is late in the game — and they can go to the guys that they went to”.
Nick Gallagher talks about Iowa's approach to now having to win three games in two days to advance.
Now, the Hawkeyes must claw away. Heller said either Elijah Wood or Drake Robison will start against the Cougars, with it likely being a piece-it-together game as the season hangs by a thread. The names on the board only thin should Iowa move into the nightcap.
But the Hawkeyes have no other route.
“We’ve just got to refocus,” Gallagher said. “Tomorrow’s a new day, and we’ve got to come out with great energy.”
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.