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Robert Neustrom talks about Iowa's tough defeat against Oklahoma State Dargan Southard, msouthard@gannett.com

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IOWA CITY, Ia. — Another electric crowd piled into Duane Banks Field, realizing the opportunity at stake. With No. 19 Oklahoma State in town and the Hawkeyes needing some résumé juice down the stretch, Friday kicked off what is undoubtedly Iowa’s most pivotal series this year.

The Cowboys looked to ruin the party early, only for Rick Heller’s squad to punch back. Opportunities were everywhere for Iowa to deliver a spirited series-opening comeback.

Not quite.

Despite clawing from an instant six-run hole, the Hawkeyes couldn’t muster the final timely knock. Iowa left 10 on base — including eight in scoring position, four of which from the fifth inning on — en route to a 7-6 loss on Friday night.

“It’s really tough, especially knowing what kind of caliber ball club that team is,” said Chris Whelan, who started at first base for his first appearance in the field this year — and helped the rally with a two-run double in the fourth.

“We think we played right there with them. We kind of felt like we let that one slip away.”

Stuck in a 7-1 hole after 3 1/2 innings, the Hawkeyes (26-16) emphatically rebounded with a five-run fourth. Tyler Cropley again buoyed the charge back, launching a three-run homer for his fourth blast in three games.

From there, the Hawkeye aluminum was silent.

Iowa put the tying run in scoring position with one out in the fifth — only for Mitchell Boe to ground into a double play. Runners were positioned on second and third in the sixth, but Matt Hoeg flied out to end the threat. Even Cropley sputtered late, striking out with the tying run at second in the eighth.

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Rick Heller discusses Iowa's tough loss to Oklahoma State. Dargan Southard, msouthard@gannett.com

“The story tonight was really just really poor situational hitting,” said Heller, who watched his Hawkeyes also leave two in scoring position with less than two outs in the third. “We didn’t execute on offense with opportunities to move runners, score runners from third with less than two outs.”

The late futility couldn’t get Nick Allgeyer off the hook.

Iowa’s ace was hit hard for the first time all year, serving up nine hits and seven runs (six earned) over six innings. Trevor Boone greeted Allgeyer loudly in the first with a solo homer to dead center, and Oklahoma State (28-15-1) pounced with a five-run third on the shoulders of Michael Neustifter’s three-run triple.

That Cowboy surge, though, came with some Hawkeye help. With men at the corners and one down, Allgeyer induced a tailor-made double play ball that could’ve ended the inning.

But Mitchell Boe’s flip went right off Kyle Crowl’s glove. Everyone safe. A bloop single followed, and Oklahoma State was off.

Allgeyer finished strong — punching out six of his final eight hitters en route to a season-high nine strikeouts — but the initial damage was too much.

“They’re a good-hitting team,” Allgeyer said. “Give them a lot of credit — they barreled up a lot of balls. Yeah, they’re a good-hitting team.

“I started to throw a lot more offspeed (late). They were pretty much on my fastball. I wasn’t really fooling many people. I felt good — the fastball felt good out of my hand today. But maybe missed location a little bit, and they were hitting it. The offspeed started to work, and that’s what we went with at the end a lot.”

Still, precision is a must against a team plowing toward becoming a regional host, and Iowa wasn’t sharp enough Friday night. A few miscues sprinkled here and there will get you beat.

The Hawkeyes aren’t through. But a series win will now require a riveting finish.

“It came down to one or two hits, it really did,” right-fielder Robert Neustrom said. “That’s really frustrating when it comes out to be an L. We could’ve easily been on top. That’s what it feels like."

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 msouthard@gannett.com or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.

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