Iowa baseball: Hawkeyes look lethargic in loss to Michigan State
IOWA CITY, Ia. — For all the weather options during baseball season in Iowa City, the Hawkeyes hadn’t had many issues until Saturday. The skies finally opened up at the wrong time.
Game 2 against Michigan State started with a rain delay — and ominous skies only faded in the latter innings. A lethargic haze hung over Duane Banks Field for most of the day. Iowa never found enough energy.
A plethora of two-out production from Michigan State eliminated every sign of a Hawkeye rally. The Spartans jumped out early, held off Iowa’s middle-inning push and evened up the series, 9-4.
"That was disappointing, obviously, to come out and have that happen today after a good night (Friday)," Iowa coach Rick Heller said. "Not much to say. It happens from time to time, but this was a bad day for it to happen."
The Hawkeyes (30-18, 12-8 Big Ten Conference) didn't look smooth from start to finish. They fell in a 4-0 hole after three, surrendering two two-out RBIs while also letting runs score on a balk and wild pitch. Iowa ended the day with similar futility. It yielded four from the sixth inning on, including three more two-out runs and a poorly defended suicide squeeze.
In the series, Michigan State (18-31, 6-13) is hitting .379 (11-for-29) with two outs and has eight two-out RBIs. Unearthing productive frames from nothing has kept Heller restless this weekend. A well-used bullpen must regroup for a pivotal rubber match.
The Hawkeyes tried to find some life from its core aluminum in the middle frames. Izaya Fullard and Austin Martin ripped back-to-back, extra-base hits that led to two fourth-inning runs. One more in the fifth pulled Iowa within one, 4-3.
The Hawkeyes got no closer.
"Booted the ball on defense. Pitchers struggled a little bit. Offense wasn't clicking. Just wasn't a great day for us, really in any area of the game," senior Chris Whelan said.
"You can blame it on the rain delay guys sitting around and getting cold or whatever. But we've been around and everyone's played baseball enough to know how to handle rain delays and know how to get yourself ready."
Equally disappointing was another subpar start, at least by Iowa’s home standards. Sophomore Cam Baumann was quickly knocked around, allowing five hits, four runs and two walks in just 3 1/3 innings. Eight of the 18 batters he faced reached safely.
Iowa’s RPI, which was down to 55 pregame, will take a decent hit — but its postseason push isn’t through yet. For starters, a win Sunday is imperative. The Hawkeyes might need to finish the regular season perfect if they don’t want to need significant Big Ten Tournament work.
Either way, Saturday’s performance wasn’t encouraging. Iowa must get a swift rebound.
"My message was pretty simple." Heller said. "It takes 35 guys to do this. It can't be the same five all the time. There are guys in the bullpen who are capable of doing the job, and they need to be able to come in and do the job.
"And then just the fact that when you're playing for what we're playing for, you think you'd get a little bit better effort."
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.