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Rick Heller on third paid assistant not passing: Disappointing for all baseball people Dargan Southard, msouthard@gannett.com

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Although Iowa came up short of completing a big road sweep, the Hawkeyes kept their postseason hopes within reach with another solid series.

Despite Sunday’s 5-1 loss at Ohio State, Iowa won its fifth straight Big Ten series and lowered its RPI significantly in the process. Friday’s 4-2 win and Saturday’s 11-4 victory over the Buckeyes further illustrated the Hawkeyes (26-16, 11-7 Big Ten Conference) are hitting their stride during the season’s most important stretch.

Entering the weekend, Iowa’s RPI sat 69th — still too high for any at-large chances. As of 3:30 p.m. Sunday, that figure was down to 60 thanks to another productive weekend.

Iowa followed the Nebraska series script, winning Friday’s contest with quality pitching before breaking out offensively on Saturday. Cole McDonald set the tone for the weekend with eight innings of two-run ball, before Grant Leonard shut things down for his 10th save.

The Hawkeye arms were still decent in Game 2, but the margin for error widened after Iowa plated 11 runs on 16 knocks. Chris Whelan, Austin Martin, Izaya Fullard, Justin Jenkins, Zeb Adreon and Brendan Sher all had multi-hit games.

That success didn’t spill into the finale. Iowa got a decent start from Grant Judkins (6 IP, 3 ER), but the Hawkeyes sputtered at the plate all afternoon. They left 11 on base and couldn’t capitalize on seven Ohio State walks.

"Today doesn't ruin the fact we had a good weekend and took another series," Iowa coach Rick Heller said, "but it's disappointing how we played (Sunday).

“Offensively, we weren't sharp. They gave us seven walks and we weren't able to turn it into any runs. It was a tough day to hit, with the wind blowing in strong. We hit a couple of balls early right at them that got caught. We didn't really kick the ball around, but the free bases we had today, all of them led to runs. It was a rough day for us. Things didn't click."

A sweep would’ve helped the RPI even more as Iowa enters its final three series — but taking two of three in Columbus was a must. The Hawkeyes have now won five consecutive series for the first time since 2015.

"We're playing pretty good baseball right now, and we're catching some breaks,” Heller said after Saturday’s win. “We're getting some two-out hits. It feels good. We labored a good chunk of the season where runs were tough to come by and we weren't getting the two-out hit with guys making plays against us. It's turned our way."

Iowa has a busy week ahead full of potential traps and opportunities. The Hawkeyes have their third double midweek slate, hosting Western Illinois on Tuesday before facing Northwestern at Impact Field on Wednesday. With both foes’ RPIs in a bad spot — the Leathernecks at 269, the Wildcats at 103 — Iowa really needs two wins this week.

Then comes the marquee showdown: Iowa hosts UC Irvine and its 36 RPI for three, providing one last chance for signature wins before the Big Ten Tournament. The Hawkeyes have thrived at Duane Banks Field. They could use another solid showing.

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

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