Rick Heller encapsulates Iowa's 2019 season, which included many positives despite rough finish. Hawk Central
OMAHA, Neb. — Late-night under the Omaha lights, Iowa and Minnesota looked like teams running on fumes. Scoring chances were abundant, but regularly squandered. A messy scorebook with little scoreboard damage made for an interesting affair.
The Hawkeyes saw their season end with one last sputter.
After porous pitching let Iowa down to start Friday’s baseball marathon, its offense struggled just the same in the nightcap. Iowa and Minnesota combined to leave 21 runners on base — but the Gophers pushed through in their 3-0 win at TD Ameritrade Park.
Minnesota (28-26) continues its Big Ten Tournament slog Saturday afternoon. The Hawkeyes (31-24) head home after a swift ending to their Omaha stay.
"We had some opportunities," Iowa coach Rick Heller said. "We couldn't get a clutch hit to save our life."
With both squads on their third game in three days, mound work seemed to be a likely liability. Not the case. Cam Baumann, Duncan Davitt and Grant Leonard were decent enough amid heavy traffic. Despite their gaudy ERAs, Minnesota’s Joshua Culliver and Ryan Duffy kept the Gophers dialed in.
Still, opportunities were there. Iowa put the leadoff man on in five of the first seven innings. It moved that runner into scoring position all five times.
The Hawkeyes mustered nothing.
They finished 1-for-18 with runners on and 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position. Iowa got one man to third base until the ninth — pinch runner Justin Jenkins in the seventh — but Mitchell Boe struck out to end the frame. A ninth-inning push fell short despite Iowa bringing the tying run to the plate three times.
"We weren't as sharp as we could have been today," outfielder Ben Norman said. "We had spots here and there where we had good at-bats, but we just couldn't get them consistently enough to where we could get our runners in. We didn't really execute with runners in scoring position when we needed too."
Compounding the frustration was Minnesota’s inability to pull away. The Gophers left the door wide open with repeated offensive failures, mirroring Iowa’s struggles.
Baumann issued five walks (three leadoff, a pair with two outs) yet Minnesota only cashed in once. Costly baserunning errors — a fifth-inning runner caught stealing and a seventh-inning pickoff — halted Gopher threats. Only in the ninth did Minnesota finally bust through for two crucial insurance runs.
Iowa’s Big Ten Tournament showing was a microcosm of its seesawing season. There were sparks along the way but not enough juice to finish the job. With dreams of returning to a regional, the Hawkeyes must settle for a few big series wins and one Omaha upset.
"A couple of weeks ago, we had our goals right in our hand — but we didn't play our best baseball at the end," Heller said. "Our season will end here, but we'll remember this group fondly for a long time."
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.