New leadoff man, seven-run inning boosts Iowa baseball to 30th win

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central
Ben Wilmes, a freshman from Johnston, took advantage of the leadoff role Saturday in East Lansing.

Rick Heller pressed a new button Saturday as the Iowa baseball team continued to search for offensive solutions to back up a sterling pitching staff.

The veteran coach inserted a true freshman into the leadoff spot in the order, and he answered the bell.

Ben Wilmes batted in the No. 1 spot for the first time in his career, and the Johnston native delivered a key two-run double to blow open the doors to a 12-2 Hawkeye win at Michigan State on Saturday.

Wilmes entered the contest with a .422 on-base percentage and a reputation for giving good at-bats. He finished the game 1-for-5, but those two RBIs kicked off Iowa’s seven-run seventh inning that turned a 3-2 nail-biter into a 10-2 rout.

More:Adam Mazur leads Iowa baseball to shutout of Michigan State

The Hawkeyes have won 14 of their last 18 games and improved to 30-16 for the season (including 14-6 in Big Ten Conference play) with five games remaining. They’ve also won five straight Big Ten series and will go for the sweep of the Spartans in Sunday’s 12:05 p.m. CT game in East Lansing.

The 30-win milestone has become a notable checkpoint for Heller’s teams. His teams have hit 30 wins in all seven full seasons as Iowa’s head coach (2020 and 2021 were shortened by COVID-19) — 2014 through 2019 and now 2022. In the two decades prior to Heller’s arrival, Iowa had just two 30-win seasons.

“It was great to get win No. 30, especially with all this team has gone through,” Heller said. "The injuries, fighting, scrapping, clawing with our early season schedule.  Getting to that number is great. And even bigger yet, we’re still in the race."

Iowa is in third place in the Big Ten standings, 1½ games behind first-place Rutgers (39-12, 16-5) and one behind Maryland (40-10, 15-5).

No. 2 hitter Peyton Williams cracked his team-leading 11th home run of the season, a two-run shot that dug the Hawkeyes out of a 2-0 hole in the third inning. Williams scored four runs for the game. Sam Peterson's three-run double capped Iowa's huge seventh inning.

Led by Duncan Davitt, Iowa's bullpen was terrific after a poor start by Connor Schultz, who last just two-thirds of an inning before being pulled. Davitt pitched 3⅔ scoreless innings in relief of Schultz and got out of a bases-loaded jam in the second inning.

The Hawkeyes had won Friday's series opener behind Adam Mazur's latest gem, 5-0. Saturday marked the 21st time this season Iowa's pitching staff allowed two or fewer runs.