OMAHA, Neb. — Desperation was in the air Wednesday morning, as Iowa and Michigan kicked off the Big Ten Tournament clinging to at-large hopes that once seemed solidified. Both teams needed deep runs in Omaha. Margins for error were slim.
The Hawkeye offense missed the message.
In a game it had to have to avoid a massive hole, Iowa mustered one hit and didn’t have a baserunner after the fourth. The Hawkeye arms held on as long as possible, but the Wolverines finally cracked through on Jesse Franklin’s walk-off sacrifice fly in the 10th inning. A blue-and-gold dogpile ensued after Michigan’s 2-1 win at TD Ameritrade Park.
Iowa (33-19) scored 49 runs in a four-game span to start the month, but the bats have been hit-and-miss in recent weeks. The latter stole the show Wednesday, as Michigan retired the final 20 Hawkeyes without much resistance.
“That’s where hitters,” first baseman Chris Whelan said, “have to have the frame of mind where if you’re leading off an inning, maybe take a pitch or take a deep breath— call time, step out, do whatever it is to slow the game down.
“But yeah, when guys go up there swinging early in the counts — and guys follow them doing the same thing — it’s 1-2-3 bang, bang. You go back out on defense, and it’s kind of the same thing. You’re back on offense again. You’ve just got to do your best to slow the game down whenever you can.”
Michigan starter Tommy Henry faced just five batters after Robert Neustrom drilled the Wolverine sophomore with a comebacker off his pitching forearm. Michigan (32-19) had to adjust in a pinch — but its bullpen didn’t blink.
Right-hander Alec Rennard, who began the year as the Wolverines’ Friday starter before getting hurt, shouldered most of the work, limiting Iowa to just one hit and one walk through 5 2/3 scoreless frames.
Relievers Jeff Criswell and William Tribucher finished the day with three flawless innings.
Iowa’s mound work was equally as strong — Nick Allgeyer yielded one run over seven innings despite saying he didn’t have his top-notch arsenal — but Michigan eventually found life against the Hawkeye bullpen.
Zach Daniels, in his third inning of work, issued two straight one-out walks before Rick Heller went to sidewinder Nick Nelsen. The senior right-hander got the necessary groundball, only it was poked into no-man’s land between the mound and short.
Kyle Crowl did his best, but Jonathan Engelmann narrowly beat the throw on a bang-bang play to load the bases. Franklin, who suppled Michigan’s first run with a solo homer to right, followed with a medium-depth fly to right.
Neustrom gave it his best heave. Christan Bullock ended it with a cloud of dust.
“(Daniels) just lost it and couldn’t throw a strike there, just out of nowhere,” Heller said. “That’s a tough situation — and a tough call bang-bang at first changes that whole thing. You could’ve walked Franklin — he was obviously seeing it good today — and that was a guy we didn’t want to face.
“But Nelsen did a good job. We had a shot at the plate. Best we could’ve done.”
Even as the offense sputtered, Allgeyer, once again, kept Iowa afloat. He tied a career-high with nine strikeouts and had 95 on the year, now good for second place in program history.
He worked out of two-on, one-out jams in both the first and the sixth — the latter coming on a nicely turned 1-4-3 double play with the Michigan runners in motion. More impressively, Allgeyer’s dominance arrived with little offspeed control early on.
“After the home run, I settled in a little bit,” Allgeyer said. “I got a lot more curveballs and sliders over. So the last four innings, I was happy with — but the first couple innings were frustrating.”
Iowa’s offensive showing could be described similarly. The Hawkeyes’ lone hit —Lorenzo Elion’s second-inning bloop single just inside the right-field chalk — set up Iowa’s only run, which was unearned.
The Hawkyes have put themselves in a hefty hole. They’ll fight to stay alive at 9 a.m. Thursday against Ohio State. Another performance like Wednesday’s will undoubtedly send them home.
“Just weren't really dialed in like I would’ve liked today,” Heller said. “I don’t have an answer to why. But like those guys said, after about the sixth inning, I think it went into press mode. And nothing good was happening.”
Dargan Southard covers Iowa and UNI athletics, recruiting and preps for The Des Moines Register, HawkCentral.com and the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Email him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.