IOWA CITY, Ia. — Even for a group of hard-nosed Midwesterners, Saturday’s forecast had to make the Hawkeyes cringe. They knew it was coming — temperatures barely above freezing, biting winds around 20 miles per hour, all topped off with a taunting dose of sunshine. But that doesn’t make it any easier.
This isn’t baseball weather, more like an extended April Fools’ joke. Iowa and Ohio State, though, had no other choice but push through. With both teams in contention for a regional berth midway through the season, squeezing in every conference game possible is crucial. Sunday and Monday are supposed to bring snow. Saturday had to have two.
And give Iowa credit for salvaging a doubleheader split. The Hawkeyes, after blowing multiple scoring chances in a 2-1 Game 1 loss, instantly rebounded with a seven-run first on the backend. That propelled Rick Heller’s squad to a 9-5 win at Duane Banks Field, setting Iowa (18-10, 4-3 Big Ten) up for a chance at a series win Sunday afternoon.
“Everybody has their routine to try to handle the cold as best they can, and you just have to try your best to stay warm however you can do it,” Iowa coach Rick Heller said. “There’s no saying, ‘You just have to be tough,’ when you’re standing out there for seven hours in the wind with no coat on. You can’t wear a glove on your throwing hand.
“Cold is cold, whether you’re from the South, the North, the East or the West.”
When Nick Allgeyer fired the afternoon’s first pitch around 1 p.m., AccuWeather’s RealFeel temperature read 27 degrees. That number had risen to a whopping 30 degrees by the time Cam Baumann ended Saturday’s baseball marathon around 7:25 p.m.
Chris Whelan, Kyle Crowl, Lorenzo Elion, Tanner Wetrich, Mitchell Boe and others rocked the bank robber look, opting for the balaclava that covers every part of the face but the eyes. The middle infielders, plus Robert Neustrom added on the mobile handwarmer, which straps around the waist and almost looks like a fanny pack.
Every position player had double sleeves or at least some sort of coverage on their arms. Game 2 starter Brady Schanuel went with three-quarter sleeves. Only Allgeyer was bold enough to go sleeveless.
“The warmest team wins in these situations where it’s a doubleheader and it’s cold like this,” Boe said. “You’ve got to stay in it and keep the energy up, keep things light. You’ve got to let the game come back to you when it goes away from you.”
It did in the opener for Iowa, which picked up another productive start from Allgeyer (six innings, one earned run) but couldn’t capitalize, offensively. In a one-run loss, the Hawkeyes left nine men on, went 3-for-16 with runners on and 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position.
Iowa had the tying run in scoring position in three separate innings — once with Tyler Cropley up, once with Neustrom hitting and once with Whelan at-bat. Those are the Hawkeyes’ three toughest hitters. Someone must deliver.
Cropley grounded into a double play. Neustrom struck out. Whelan did the same to end the game.
“It was one of those games,” Heller said, “where you felt like you left one out there.”
About 30 minutes separated the two games. Disappointment could’ve easily lingered, amplified by the unpleasant weather that wasn’t going anywhere.
But the Hawkeyes immediately pounced when Ohio State presented an opening. Against the Buckeyes’ Ryan Feltner, who hasn’t been great this season but dominated the Cape Cod League last summer and is expected to still be a solid MLB Draft pick, Iowa jumped ahead early.
Ohio State helped the cause with errors, but the Hawkeyes still opened with five first-inning hits and a 7-1 lead — certainly the response you want to see following a frustrating loss.
The instant juice provided a solid cushion for right-hander Brady Schanuel, who still struggled with walks (four of them) but never let the dam break over six decent innings.
The 6-foot-3 right-hander is one of best pitchers in the conference when he’s on, as evidenced by his seven strikeouts and a fastball that occasionally toys with the mid-90s. But control issues cause Schanuel’s pitch count to soar, something Heller hopes can be ironed out once the weather heats up.
“Just staying mentally tough,” said Schanuel when asked to pinpoint the toughest part about pitching in the cold. “You just have to battle through it. Hands are the first to go when the wind starts blowing, but you’ve got to fight against it and do whatever you can.
“But I’ve got to eliminate the walks. If I don’t walk anybody, then most likely, no runs score.”
His teammates, though, supplied some breathing room, giving Iowa a chance at another series win Sunday. First pitch is slated for noon, but snow will be on the way.
Such is life in the Hawkeye State.
“It is what it is,” Heller said.
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.