Cam Baumann's strong start keeps Iowa baseball afloat with Big Ten Tournament win over Michigan
OMAHA — The southpaw's start was teetering on a disastrous edge before it even really started, and Cam Baumann knew he had to correct things quickly. Any victorious Iowa route didn't include a pitching change before fans were settled in their seats.
Then, almost miraculously, the baseball chaos stopped. And Baumann dug in to deliver one of the strongest (and most improbable) outings of his circuitous college career.
After minimal usage during the regular season, Baumann gave the Hawkeye baseball team 5 ⅔ quality frames in a massive moment. His stability paved the way for Iowa to bust out late, which it did with en route to Saturday's 7-3 win over Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals at Charles Schwab Field. The win sets up a second matchup with the Wolverines at 1 p.m. Sunday, with a victory sending Iowa (36-18) to the title game later that evening against Rutgers.
"At the end of the day," Iowa coach Rick Heller said, "I knew Cam really wanted the ball. I just had a feeling he's going to give us a great outing."
A veteran of conference tournaments and the pitching desperation they often create, Heller knew he'd need an unsung hero — or several — to emerge from Omaha. Turning to Baumann with the season on the line more than qualified.
The Fairfield product had a decent 2021 campaign, throwing nearly 70 innings, but this year hasn't resembled that. Other pitchers beat out Baumann for pivotal roles. It's why the redshirt senior had barely 15 innings to his name when he took the mound Saturday night.
Baumann's first inning showed why. He plunked the first two Michigan hitters, then drilled a third a few batters later as Heller frantically got the Iowa bullpen hot. However, the erratic behavior stopped there. Baumann wiggled out of trouble in the first, worked around a leadoff double in the second and cruised through the next three frames with little disruption.
"I've finally started to settle in here this past month," Baumann said. "Been able to get some things going for myself. This year has definitely been up and down, especially at the beginning for me. But I knew all my stuff was still good, just struggling here and there. And I knew it'd start clicking here toward the end."
His one walk kept Michigan from producing any cheap threats. His five strikeouts had Wolverines flailing throughout the night. That dominance allowed some leeway once Michigan finally strung something together.
Baumann exited with two on and two down in the sixth — Iowa owning a 3-0 lead. After reliever Ben Beutel issued a walk on a close full-count pitch, pinch-hitter Jordon Rogers followed with a bases-loaded single to right that Keaton Anthony nearly grabbed with a diving attempt. Izaya Fullard chased the ball down from second base and fired home, allowing Cade Moss time to corral the throw and tag out Ted Burton — the tying run — before he crossed safely.
"I had to take a few steps to my right, made a good pick and I was able to get back quickly and get my glove in front of the plate," Moss said. "He slid right into me, cut up my arm a little bit, but got the out. So that was good."
The Hawkeyes preserved a 3-2 advantage and immediately tacked on four insurance runs in the seventh, with Moss again in the middle of things. Just like Baumann, the sophomore catcher has saved his top production for this important Omaha week.
Consecutive RBI knocks from Sam Petersen, Moss and Kyle Huckstorf cashed in a bases-loaded, nobody-out start to the frame, supplying some needed breathing room as a strong Iowa fan contingency roared with approval. Huckstorf also had a two-run triple in the sixth to cement what's been an incredible couple of weeks after a tough Big Ten season.
Baumann has resurrected his 2022 campaign in similar fashion. If Iowa completes this crazy task of winning five games in three days with back-to-back doubleheader sweeps, point to Saturday night's start as one of the biggest reasons why.
"To lead when you're not playing or not playing well is really an art," Heller said. "You don't see it very often in this profession. But the reason we're sitting here right now is because Cam and other guys never quit leading. They never quit on the program."
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 email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.