IOWA CITY, Ia. — The Iowa mound work was less than subpar from the jump, meaning the bats needed to pull their weight and then some. It was an old-fashioned slugfest on Saturday afternoon, with no regard for ERAs or pitching morale.
The Hawkeyes had their work cut out, down three early and five later. But the aluminum kept coming until the final frame.
Matt Hoeg delivered the go-ahead blow — a three-run double in the seventh — and Robert Neustrom added some much-needed insurance with a three-run homer in the eighth. That propelled Iowa to a wild 16-14 win over No. 19 Oklahoma State at Duane Banks Field.
“Hitting is contagious — I fully agree with that,” said Neustrom, who finished 3-for-5 with two homers, three runs scored and five RBI. “When you’ve got multiple people doing it, it kind of travels its way through the lineup.”
Poor situational hitting burned Iowa (27-16) in Friday’s defeat, and the Hawkeyes earlier in the week scored 16-plus runs and lost for the first time since 1895. But the bats showed resiliency and determination in picking up a battered staff.
Oklahoma State (28-16-1) pounded 10 two-out RBIs, including an emphatic six-run fourth that started after the first two hitters were retired. The Cowboys beat up starter Brady Schanuel with walks and timely knocks, appearing ready to clinch a pivotal road series.
But Iowa didn’t wilt.
“I couldn’t be prouder of our team and the effort they gave today,” Hawkeyes coach Rick Heller said. “Our backs were against the wall — lose a tough game Friday and fall behind early — and just kept fighting back, just kept answering back and not letting what has happened in the past affect the next pitch.
“They just kept playing and kept playing and kept playing. I couldn’t be prouder of those guys because there were a lot of times in that game, they could’ve laid down and felt like it was over. It was hot out — long game — and we just kept coming.”
The holes were everywhere — 3-0 after one, 5-3 after three, 11-6 after four, 12-9 after six — when the Hawkeyes created their own two-out push in the seventh.
Neustrom brought home Kyle Crowl (4-for-4, three runs, two RBI) with a run-scoring single, chiseling the deficit down to two and setting the table. Two-out walks to Tyler Cropley and Austin Guzzo followed, and Hoeg pounced on Ben Leeper’s first pitch for a rope to left. Guzzo just beat the throw home to give Iowa a 13-12 lead, sending the Hawkeye dugout into jubilation.
"I kind of felt a lot of pressure because (Friday), there were a lot of two-out — even one-out situations — where I had an RBI chance and didn’t come through," said Hoeg, who finished 2-for-4 with six RBI. “So I felt a little pressure for myself.
“But from that at-bat, he was starting everybody off with sliders or changeups basically the whole inning before that. So I was sitting on a slider first pitch, and he kind of hung one over the middle. So I was glad I was able to get on it and hit it for a double.”
Neustrom’s eighth-inning blast proved vital, as Oklahoma State’s Matt Kroon and Jon Littell each crushed solo homers in the ninth off closer Zach Daniels. But the Cowboys, despite the early push, couldn’t keep up in Saturday’s slugfest.
Now, the Hawkeyes will turn to freshman Jack Dreyer for a pivotal series win. The Johnston product will make his first weekend start on Sunday, looking to bail out a beleaguered mound unit that’s been worn down by ineffectiveness and injuries.
Dreyer made one start earlier this season — March 14 versus Missouri State — and flashed his pitching prowess while also getting tagged. The southpaw yielded four hits and four runs (three earned) over 2 1/3 innings — but also struck out six.
He’s been a multi-inning midweek arm of late, but the Iowa staff has raved about Dreyer’s potential all year. An opportunity awaits.
“If Jack will go out and pitch like he can, he will give them a lot of trouble — he will,” Heller said. “He’s got a good arm, a good fastball — breaking stuff is really nasty. It’s just a matter of him being able to hit with it.
“For most of the season, he’s been off and on with it, and hopefully tomorrow, he’ll just go out there and step up and pick us up big.”
In a monumental rubber match, another offensive boost could provide the necessary confidence for a young arm. As they displayed Saturday, the Iowa bats can mask pitching futility in a hurry.
“(The coaching staff) always preaches, ‘It’s only over if you want it to be over,’” Hoeg said. “We can always come back.”
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.