Rick Heller recaps a huge series-clinching win over Oklahoma State. Dargan Southard, firstname.lastname@example.org
IOWA CITY, Ia. — There were countless moments throughout a draining week where a different team would’ve crumbled, unable to muster much after waves of adversity.
No need to understate how pivotal a stretch this was for Iowa, which entered this week squarely on the bubble and needed to capitalize against a run of high-end foes. Missouri was in town for one and Oklahoma State for three. Résumé-enhancing chances couldn’t be squandered.
Baseball absurdity ensued throughout — and the Hawkeye pitching staff was ripped to shreds. Heading into Sunday’s series finale against the Cowboys, Rick Heller’s squad needed all it had to produce just one win this week.
But this is a veteran Iowa unit, seasoned with poise after last year’s riveting postseason run. No hole is too deep, no challenge too stout — as the Hawkeyes close in on a third regional appearance in four years.
Sunday was another monumental step — an 11-3 series-clinching win over No. 19 Oklahoma State that will undoubtedly boost the program's prestige. Getting the Cowboys on the schedule was impressive enough; beating them in comeback fashion made an even larger statement.
“Coach Heller was just talking about how teams a few years before us, they wouldn’t have had this opportunity to have a team like that come in — top-25 in the country traveling all the way to Iowa to play us,” senior Chris Whelan said. “The guys in the past have set the tone and got this program back on track.
“This sets the tone for the rest of the season.”
Chris Whelan: 'This sets the tone for the rest of the season' Dargan Southard, email@example.com
When Iowa (28-16) trotted out in the Sunday gold just before 11:30 a.m., it had already shouldered a season’s worth of emotion since just Tuesday.
The week began with a crushing 17-16 defeat to Missouri, the program’s first defeat after scoring 16-plus runs since 1895. A rare Nick Allgeyer rough-up followed on Friday in a one-run loss. The Hawkeyes needed everything in the tank to even the series, squeezing out a 16-14 slugfest on Saturday.
A Sunday letdown seemed plausible. Freshman Jack Dreyer was making his first weekend start, thrust into a crucial spot after Cole McDonald’s injury against Michigan. The offense, after already throwing up 38 runs this week, only had one win to show for it.
Instead, Iowa looked rejuvenated.
"They just keep playing and play hard and play the way they’re supposed to," Heller said. “They don’t play the jersey — you just go play the game — and whatever happens, happens. They did a great job of that. They don’t let stuff that goes the wrong way or goes bad affect them.
“When you can do that in baseball, the game usually comes back to you.”
The Hawkeyes jumped on Oklahoma State (28-17-1) with four in the first, providing a comforting boost to the southpaw Dreyer. The Johnston product took that cushion and ran with it. Multi-inning midweek appearances had been his role of late, but Dreyer easily delivered Iowa’s best mound performance of the weekend.
Five innings, two hits, one run, six strikeouts — the only real mistake coming on Carson McCusker’s solo homer. Even with a little traffic, Dreyer consistently slammed the door with two outs — something Hawkeye pitchers hadn’t done all series.
“A lot of confidence, not making too big of a deal out of it," said Dreyer, who then turned the ball to Grant Judkins for 3 2/3 innings of effective relief. “I’ve got guys like Nick Allgeyer and Cole McDonald who just instill confidence in me, making sure that I’m not making it more than what it is. Just go out there and have fun.”
Jack Dreyer breaks down his first weekend start. Dargan Southard, firstname.lastname@example.org
With Saturday starter Brady Schanuel struggling and McDonald still on the mend, Dreyer could be in the weekend mix moving forward. He was thrown into the fire Sunday — and responded with authority.
Iowa left Oklahoma State with one last parting gift. Six runs in the seventh and one in the eighth turned the series finale into a laugher, as the Hawkeyes pounced on the Cowboys’ late walk-a-thon.
Every starter reached base Sunday. Five — Whelan, Robert Neustrom, Tyler Cropley, Austin Guzzo and Matt Hoeg — finished with multi-hit performances.
At times, it appeared this week was going to overwhelm the Hawkeyes and drown them in their own attempt to compete with the elite. But Iowa showed why it’s an ascending program.
The resiliency isn’t a fluke.
“The guys just fight back,” Heller said. “That’s what this team has done all year. They've gone out and played hard and take care of their own business.”
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.