Iowa baseball: Hawkeyes slide by UC Irvine, 1-0, for series-clinching win
IOWA CITY, Ia. — With Trenton Denholm dealing and Cam Baumann surviving, someone had to make a move. Saturday’s starters didn’t offer much for scoring chances under the Iowa City sun.
The Hawkeyes pounced on a small crack.
Tanner Wetrich’s RBI single after Tanner Padgett reached on a double that should’ve been caught was all the life Iowa needed. The fifth-inning run held up all the way through, as the Hawkeyes clinched an enormous series win over UC Irvine, 1-0, at Duane Banks Field.
"Sometimes," Iowa coach Rick Heller said, "you just have to find a way to get it done."
Offensive outbursts weren’t expected with this West Coast foe in town, but Saturday’s affair featured few hard-hit balls. Denholm dazzled over eight innings, surrendering just six hits and one run with no walks and eight strikeouts. Baumann had more traffic — seven hits, a walk and two hit batsmen — but the Iowa southpaw navigated through jams with unwavering poise in five scoreless innings.
Irvine had two on in the first, two on in the second, the bases loaded in the fourth, two on in the fifth and two on in the sixth — all resulting in nothing on the scoreboard. Overall, the Anteaters left 10 on base and went 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position.
Those missed opportunities proved pivotal considering the final tally. All Iowa could muster offensively was largely gifted.
Padgett’s one-out fly in the fifth was belted to the warning track — but right-fielder Konnor Zickefoose was seemingly under it for an easy out. Until he wasn’t. The ball bounced off the brown turf as Padgett, still battling a hamstring injury, hobbled into second.
Pinch-runner Lorenzo Elion took it from there, scampering to third on a wild pitch. Brendan Sher followed with a strikeout, but Wetrich walloped one back up the middle off Denholm’s pitching hand. With an exit velocity exceeding 100 miles per hour, the Anteaters couldn’t corral the run-scoring knock.
"The biggest thing is going up there with confidence, knowing that the opportunities are going to be slim in that game," Wetrich said. "You want to make the most of that at-bat, and I feel like I did that.
"I was sitting on a fastball, just trying to put a good swing on a pitch. He hung a curveball, and I just tried to put it in the right-center gap. But I put a good swing on it. Lucky it got through."
Iowa’s relief unit ran with that small lead. Jason Foster tossed two scoreless frames, working out of the sixth-inning jam with a strikeout and a groundout. Closer Grant Leonard finished the day with his 12th save — this one the six-out variety.
"We're really cohesive as a bullpen, said Leonard, who chiseled his ERA down to a measly 1.61. "We all have each other's backs, and we all have confidence in each and every guy. Right now, guys coming out of the 'pen are throwing really well. If that keeps up, that'll be great."
Friday’s win dipped Iowa’s RPI down to 51, and it’ll take another spike after Saturday’s victory. Once considered a postseason longshot, the Hawkeyes have taken another step toward a regional berth.
There's still work up ahead. But for now, Iowa can relish in the success of another monumental weekend.
"That's great to see as we head down the stretch," Heller said.
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.