Izaya Fullard's two homers propel Iowa to series-opening win over UC Irvine

Dargan Southard
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — With two bellowing blasts to left field, the man they call Meat Patty left his mark on a pivotal series-opening win.

Izaya Fullard didn’t choose the nickname life — rather it chose him — but Iowa’s stocky first baseman doesn’t mind too much. He’ll take the sporadic jabs with the emphatic swats.

Fullard’s two homers Friday propelled the Hawkeyes to a 6-3 win over UC Irvine at Duane Banks Field, setting the tone for what is Iowa’s most crucial weekend to date.

"I'm used to the nickname now," Fullard said with a smile. "My roommate (Lorenzo Elion), he kind of just started calling me that. And then I guess the team really loved it.

"Now, even coach (Rick Heller) calls me Meat Patty."  

Irvine starter Andre Pallante entered having yielded just five long balls all year. But Fullard, the Iowa City West alum and Kirkwood Community College transfer, clubbed a solo shot in the third and a two-run bomb in the fifth for Iowa’s first multi-homer game this season.

Those blasts handed the Hawkeyes (28-16) a 4-0 lead after Iowa scraped across a first-inning run on Connor McCaffery’s RBI groundout. Against an Irvine staff boasting hefty pitching credentials, sticking the Anteaters in a swift hole proved to be an early catalyst.

"I've just been waiting for Izaya to get hot," Iowa coach Rick Heller said. "He's not been in a bad slump, but has been just off the barrel a little bit. When we had batting practice before Western Illinois (on Wednesday), I saw the swing back that I like. He put the same type of swing on in the game. It was good to see that.     

"Izaya's always been a really good hitter. A lot of his hits in his younger days were more oppo-gap stuff. The pull-side stuff is really starting to develop and did some at Kirkwood last year. I've just watched it evolve." 

Iowa infielder Izaya Fullard (20) smiles while running towards home plate after hitting a home run during NCAA non conference baseball game, Friday, May 3, 2019, at Duane Banks Field in Iowa City, Iowa.

Cole McDonald ran with the offensive assist. Iowa’s Friday ace surrendered two in the seventh on RBIs from Christian Koss and Mikey Filia, but McDonald was otherwise sharp again.

The senior right-hander churned out his fifth straight quality start, yielding just five hits and one earned run over seven innings. He got a needed double-play ball in the fourth to squash a bases-loaded threat, then left a runner in scoring position in the fifth. 

Against a team that lacks consistent pop, McDonald flexed his pitching prowess. 

"From my freshman year to where I am now, I've just been in a whole lot of different situations," McDonald said. "I've seen a lot of different games and have been in different situations as a pitcher — reliever, starter, midweek starter I've seen (Nick) Allgeyer, (Nick) Gallagher, C.J. Eldred (come before me) and just learned from them. 

"It doesn't help myself to make it any different than what it is, so I just want to go out there and pitch like I can."    

The Hawkeyes added two insurance runs in the eighth and got a scoreless effort from Trace Hoffman in relief. With little margin for error as it looks to solidify an at-large berth, Iowa needed to start off on the right foot.          

Meat Patty and the crew took care of that.

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.