Iowa baseball: Hawkeyes' eighth-inning rally propels Iowa to series-opening win over Illinois

Dargan Southard
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — It was a draining top of the eighth, one that could've zapped all budding postseason momentum Iowa has constructed over the last few weeks. An Illini scoring threat sprung to life without warning — and had the Hawkeyes wobbling into Friday's final act. 

Iowa, though, handles these blows well. Just as quickly as Illinois stunningly zipped ahead with a two-out, three-run eighth, the Hawkeyes made everything right in front of another solid Duane Banks Field contingency.   

Ben Norman's two-out go-ahead triple capped a riveting three-run answer in the bottom half, as the Hawkeyes rallied for a 5-4 series-opening win in their final home series. The Hawkeyes (22-14) have now won seven straight Friday contests dating back to early April.

“We know that we have that never-give-up attitude,” Norman said. “Having that mentality is huge because you’re never out of a game. You’re always going to keep grinding out your at-bats, taking it one pitch at a time and let the chips fall as they may.”

This one, though, was suddenly in peril after Trace Hoffman and Dylan Nedved combined to cough up Iowa's 2-1 advantage with an ugly eighth. A pair of two-out walks ignited Illinois' dormant bats, leading to a game-tying double from Kellen Sarver and a two-run single via Cam McDonald that scooted between two infielders. A 4-2 Illinois lead silenced those in gold who had dodged the rain. 

No worries. Iowa's aluminum awoke just in time. 

“It has to be culture," Iowa coach Rick Heller said. "You play hard and you don’t look at the scoreboard. You just keep playing.  When you buy into that, it gives you a chance to come back in these games when it looks like you’re out of it."

The Hawkeyes had their deficit in half two batters into the eighth, with Zeb Adreon walking and Matthew Sosa doubling him home on a liner to left. Iowa's West Coast third baseman later tied the game on Brayden Frazier's sky-high pop that dropped in shallow left-center. 

But two unproductive outs followed. And Iowa, having pulled even but needing one more, required one more clutch knock. 

Norman was happy to oblige. A rope to right glanced off McDonald's glove and easily brought home Frazier, who went sprinting on contact.

Another improbable rally. Another stunning late effort. Heller then stayed with his closer Nedved, who tossed a scoreless ninth for a blown-save-turned-win.

“As soon as we took the lead back, I had full confidence in myself,” Nedved said. “It’s the flip of a switch. Anything that puts you down, you have to get right back up.”

The wild eighth did its best in overshadowing another episode of Trenton Wallace domination. When the sturdy southpaw fires it up again on a Friday night, the Hawkeyes believe anything mesmerizing can happen. The worst case scenario is Wallace keeps Iowa in the game late. 

With another solid stat line — three hits and one run surrendered over six quality innings — Wallace has yielded two or fewer runs in eight of his 11 starts. He punched out nine Illini and walked just two, limiting unnecessary traffic and laboring frames on a rainy Iowa evening.

His only mistake was a fifth-inning solo homer via Nathan Aide, which brought Illinois (16-19) even in a 1-1 tie. Run support doesn't have to be substantial for Wallace, just enough to make another stellar start stick. And after Iowa took a 2-1 lead on Austin Martin's two-out single in the fifth, it seemed the Hawkeyes had enough to waltz to the finish line. 

The eighth inning could've knocked Iowa all the way down, unable to revive following a crushing collapse. But these Hawkeyes don't flop over that easily. 

"There’s no magic to it," Heller said. "It’s just guys not quitting.”       

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.