IOWA CITY, Ia. — For the first time in a few seasons, significant chunks of a visiting fan base waltzed into Duane Banks Field and got comfortable. Nebraska’s baseball following showed up again, peppering the third-base line with spots of red.
Now in their eighth season as conference foes, the Hawkeye-Husker showdown has fully bloomed across numerous sports. The diamond is no different — where Iowa and Nebraska have met for some thrilling series in recent years. The rivalry returned to Iowa City this weekend for the first time since 2015.
Those in red exited quietly.
With extra innings looming on a chilly Iowa night, Zeb Adreon’s game-winning single in the ninth handed the Hawkeyes a 3-2 series-opening win Friday. It kicks off a weekend Iowa (22-14, 8-5 Big Ten Conference) must have to keep its at-large chances reasonably intact.
"Just really trying to have a good at-bat," Adreon said. "I knew ... all we needed was a base hit. So just tried to stay calm and look for a pitch I could do damage with. He fortunately left one over the plate, and I was able to get a base hit.
"That is probably my first-ever actual walk-off. I think that's first time I've ever come up in the bottom of the ninth with the winning run on second."
Adreon’s knock scored Justin Jenkins, who reached on a fielder’s choice after a close play at second on a sacrifice bunt didn't go Iowa's way. He later moved into scoring position on a stolen base, when Nebraska (21-12, 10-3) blatantly dropped the ball ahead of the tag.
A good throw from right field could've nailed Jenkins at home as well — but the ball sailed to the backstop as Iowa’s dugout erupted.
A needed win in a crucial spot.
"It was a good game, an intense game," Hawkeyes coach Rick Heller said. "It was the type of game we expected it would be."
Friday ace Cole McDonald didn’t have his crispest stuff, but the senior right-hander kept Nebraska’s damage at a minimum. He yielded six hits and two runs over six innings, marking McDonald’s fourth quality start in five Big Ten outings.
The Huskers broke through with two in the fourth on back-to-back RBI knocks from Mojo Hagge and Cam Chick — but McDonald navigated around traffic from there. He stranded two in the fourth, three in fifth and one in the sixth before exiting after 108 pitches.
"We knew coming in that this is a big weekend for us and can definitely help our postseason run and what we're trying to do," said McDonald who gave way to Kyle Shimp and Trace Hoffman for three scoreless frames. "We just wanted to play with a lot of energy, execute as best we possibly could."
Adreon's late heroics salvaged an offensive day that was largely stunted by Matt Waldron, who checked into Iowa City as the Big Ten's ERA leader. The Nebraska right-hander was as advertised, tossing 7 2/3 quality innings without a walk.
Waldron's lone blemishes came via Chris Whelan's two-out RBI single in the third and Austin Martin's run-scoring knock in the sixth. He then turned it over to the Huskers bullpen, hoping to see his efforts rewarded.
Iowa and Adreon had different ideas. Those who invaded in red had to settle for Friday disappointment.
"We knew there were going to be ups and downs," McDonald said, "but as long as we have each other's back, we know we can put wins like this together."
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.