HOUSTON — Jake Adams got it all, the bat flip and everything. His monster home run in the eighth inning brought Iowa back even in a back-and-forth affair with the season on the line.
But that momentum didn’t hold.
Houston’s Connor Wong followed Adams’ solo blast with his own mammoth shot in the ninth and the Cougars added one more off Josh Martsching, ending Iowa’s season with a 7-5 win in Sunday’s elimination game at Schroeder Park. The Hawkeyes close the season at 39-22.
Adams’ blast off reliever Joey Pulido was his 29th this season, extending his NCAA lead. It disappeared far into the Houston evening — and for a moment, appeared to hand Iowa the necessary boost to keep its season alive.
It finished, though, as just an emphatic footnote.
“I was going up there looking for a fastball — that’s what I had been seeing all game,” Adams said. “He’s kind of a quick guy coming to the plate. Obviously, he got me the first couple times I faced him, and he threw a fastball right down the middle. I was ready to jump on it. Hit a big home run there in that situation. It sparked our team a little bit. right when I came back to the dugout, everybody was pumped up.
“I thought that was going to be the turning point. We just couldn’t get anything going after that.”
Martsching had been nails all postseason — having not yielded a run in his first 10 1/3 innings — but the Cougars tagged him hard after Adams unloaded. Grayson Padget’s RBI double gave Houston some insurance in the ninth after Wong's decisive blow over the center field batter's eye.
Martsching, who threw 2 2/3 innings of two-hit ball against the Cougars on Friday, saw a stretch of seven consecutive scoreless appearances end.
“It was the situation we wanted — the right guy was there,” Iowa coach Rick Heller said. “Josh has meant a lot to the program — fifth-year senior, been through it all. Tommy John surgery, fought through that, and had been amazing this whole season.
“… I didn’t have anybody else that I would’ve went to in that situation other than Josh.”
Adams’ blast came on the first pitch of the eighth after Houston grabbed a 5-4 lead in the top half on Lael Lockhart’s RBI single off Kyle Shimp. The late, seesawing action capped off a contest that began without much offense, as Drake Robison and Mitch Ullom essentially matched each other frame for frame.
After yielding a first-inning single to Mason McCoy, Ullom retired 11 Hawkeyes in a row. Robison, meanwhile, built off his strong Big Ten Conference Tournament outing with just one run surrendered over the first five frames.
But Iowa ambushed Ullom in the fifth, and Houston did the same to Robison in the sixth. Each squad put up a three-spot before Iowa freshman Grant Judkins’ RBI groundout tied the game at 4-4 heading to the seventh.
“Beginning of the game, we were pressing a little too much,” Adams said. “We weren’t our normal selves. We weren’t taking our 15 seconds like we’ve been doing all year, and that hurt us. So once we got up there and relaxed, things started going the way we wanted to.”
Heller's club knocked Ullom out after 4 1/3 innings, stringing together five straight hits and putting six consecutive baserunners on in its three-run fifth. Robison gave up six hits and four runs over five innings, with Corey Julks’ RBI double and Padgett’s two-run single proving costly in Houston’s strong sixth.
Even so, Adams’ blast woke the black-and-gold faithful back up with authority. It was a no-doubter, and then some. After waiting through a 5 1/2-hour rain delay before the game, it appeared Iowa fans might get more postseason magic.
Just it wasn't quite enough.
"We were the underdogs coming into the tournament and we knew what kind of team we had," Adams said. “We had to keep playing the same game we’ve been playing all year and we knew we could get it done. Our pitching staff throughout the year really stepped up, and when guys at the top of the order weren’t getting it done, the bottom of the order was turning it around for us and helping us out, which is very huge.
“But it comes down to a couple plays here and there, and they took advantage of them. That’s just kind of bit us in the butt all year, and it happened today.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.