Iowa baseball's furious rally falls short in loss at Michigan State

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central
Iowa coach Rick Heller's two starting pitchers Saturday and Sunday combined to get five outs.

Iowa's baseball team was able to overcome one poor start during its weekend series at Michigan State. As mightily as it tried, it couldn’t overcome another.

Redshirt freshman Keaton Anthony smoked an eighth-inning grand slam over the right-field fence but it wasn’t enough as the Hawkeyes’ dropped Sunday’s series finale to the Spartans, 11-8.

Iowa (30-17, 14-7 Big Ten) wound up taking two of three games from Michigan State to secure its fifth straight conference-series win. But Sunday’s loss stung … and ultimately came down to one bad, bad inning.

After yielding just two runs as a pitching staff — both in the first inning of Saturday’s 12-2 win — through two games in East Lansing, Iowa gave up a nine-run second inning Sunday. Starter Ty Langenberg, who had allowed just one earned run over his last two starts (in 12 innings), didn’t retire any of the six batters he faced in the second inning before begin removed. The Spartans went single, walk, single, double, single and single to begin the fateful inning.

The Hawkeyes trailed, 10-1, through six innings before staging a furious rally. They put two runs on the board in the seventh inning on Peyton Williams' team-high 12th home run of the season. They added five in the eighth on the strength of Anthony’s 11th long ball. Those two have carried the team offensively all season, and they almost brought the Hawkeyes back Sunday.

Then after Michigan State scored an unearned run off Brody Brecht in the eighth inning (the Spartans scored five off two Iowa errors), the Hawkeyes had two runners on and two out in the top of the ninth. But Williams saw his deep drive to center field caught at the warning track. Ten more feet, and it would have been a three-run homer and a tie ballgame. Instead, it was game over.

"It is a disappointing loss, but we never quit," Heller said. "You have to like that about our team."

The Hawkeyes entered the weekend with “bubble” status for the 64-team NCAA tournament; D1 Baseball projections had them outside the field, but Baseball America had them in. Winning two of three against Michigan State (RPI 160 entering Sunday) was productive, but a sweep would’ve made that bus ride home a lot happier for the Hawkeyes (RPI 64).

Four regular-season games remain for Iowa: Tuesday’s visit to Illinois-Chicago (RPI 177) before hosting a Thursday-through-Saturday series against Indiana (RPI 103).

A big question against the Hoosiers is what Iowa does with its No. 2 spot in the rotation. On Saturday, right-hander Connor Schultz lasted just two-thirds of an inning. He hasn’t made it out of the third inning in any of his previous three starts.

The Hawkeyes' bullpen (8⅓ scoreless innings on Saturday) and ace starter Adam Mazur (who led a 5-0 shutout on Friday) were solid over the weekend and enough to secure the program's seventh 30-win campaign under Heller.

“It was great to get win No. 30, especially with all this team has gone through,” Heller said after Saturday's win. “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."

The Hawkeyes enter their final three-game series in third place in the Big Ten (two games back of co-leaders Maryland and Rutgers, each at 16-5) and are locked into the eight-team conference tournament May 24-28 in Omaha. The tournament winner is guaranteed an NCAA berth.