Hawkeyes' early hole proves costly as Purdue evens series with Iowa baseball

Dargan Southard
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY — As Saturday's matinee swiftly slipped away from an Iowa baseball team that can't afford much more despair right now, the only lingering question was if the Hawkeyes had any kind of stabilizing response.

Iowa did — but not strong enough to save the day.

A six-run hole before the fourth inning concluded proved too deep for the Hawkeyes to emerge from, as Purdue squared up balls much better with someone other than Adam Mazur on the mound. The Boilermakers' initial surge and late action outweighed Iowa's fifth-inning push, carrying Purdue to a 10-6 win on a gorgeous day at Duane Banks Field. 

As consistent as the Hawkeyes' series-opening product has been this season, the rest of Iowa's weekends can range anywhere from decent to dreadful. Saturday's 11 a.m. affair with Big Ten Network in the house had more elements of the latter than the former. 

The trouble began with starter Connor Schultz, who seemed to be back on track two weeks ago at Rutgers after an injury-plagued middle chunk of the season. Schultz threw eight scoreless frames in New Jersey on April 23 — but hasn't got out of the third inning in either start since. 

After Schultz served up five hits and three runs through 2 2/3 innings, Rick Heller wasn't messing around with Iowa (27-16, 11-6 Big Ten Conference) already in a 3-0 hole and a fresh Dylan Nedved ready to roll. Only, Iowa's top reliever wasn't right either — as Nedved was roughed up for three runs in the fourth that handed the Boilermakers (26-15, 7-8) a 6-0 advantage. Purdue's Paul Toetz landed the most emphatic blow, launching a solo homer high off the scoreboard in left.       

The blast was only the fourth Nedved has surrendered this season and first since April 9. Overall, Saturday was just the second outing since March 27 that Nedved yielded at least three runs. When two of Iowa's top arms aren't sharp like they're expected to be, the Hawkeyes aren't likely to be in a good spot for recovery.

"This week, it was more location in the zone (with Schultz)," Iowa coach Rick Heller said. "Everything was up, and they were hammering it. And then Dylan didn't have command of his secondary stuff today. Just wasn't sharp at all." 

The offense did its best, mirroring Friday's performance with one big crooked number midway through. Iowa got off the goose egg with a fielder's choice turned throwing error, then watched Keaton Anthony club a three-run homer for a four-run fifth

A two-run deficit suddenly made Saturday manageable, even more so when the Hawkeyes put the tying runs in scoring position with nobody down the next inning. But that's where timely hitting came to a screeching halt. 

The next three Hawkeyes trudged back to the dugout without putting the ball in play, as the three consecutive strikeouts drained all the juice out of a solid Duane Banks Field crowd. Kyle Huckstorf's inning-ending punch out was particularly deflating, resulting in a tense exchange between Heller and home-plate umpire Adam Berg. The Iowa head man rarely gets heated over balls and strikes, but frustration poured out after Berg rung up Huckstorf on a generous outside-corner pitch. 

"It was basically one of the widest zones I've ever seen, if you want to know the truth," Heller said. "It is what it is. That's the strike zone. But it was insane."  

Iowa head coach Rick Heller reacts during a NCAA Big Ten Conference baseball game against Purdue, Saturday, May 7, 2022, at Duane Banks Field in Iowa City, Iowa.

By the time the Hawkeyes dented the scoreboard again, more troubling Iowa mound work made it mean little. Cade Moss' two-run double in the eighth merely countered the four runs Purdue generated in the seventh and eighth innings.       

Now, the Hawkeyes need a Sunday response to avoid a crippling series loss. 

"We try to keep a positive attitude everyday," Nedved said. "Just things like that. We'll wipe it away." 

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.