Michigan eliminates Iowa baseball from Big Ten Tournament with run-rule win
OMAHA — The final day of Iowa's arduous baseball marathon needed the same level of flawless execution that got the Hawkeyes here. If Rick Heller's bunch was really going to pull off a two-win Sunday after a two-win Saturday, everything and then some had to flow perfectly.
The hill proved too steep to climb.
The Hawkeyes' pitching plan was disrupted early as well as late. Michigan eventually overwhelmed Iowa's weary unit en route to a 13-1 win, which advances the Wolverines to Sunday's Big Ten Tournament title game against Rutgers at Charles Schwab Field Omaha. The Hawkeyes head home having fought as long as they could after a stunning Thursday loss. But, there's a reason why the loser's bracket isn't the preferred route.
Following Cam Baumann's lead from the night before, Iowa needed similar gutsy outings to sift through this one. Brody Brecht got the first opportunity to prove his elite stuff outweighed his high walk rate, but Brecht made it all of four batters (with two free passes) before Heller went to an early hook. Michigan's 2-0 first-inning lead was a sign of disaster to come.
"The message for Brody," Heller said, "is you've seen a lot this year, experienced a lot, a lot of new and different things. Now he has to take all that information he's learned and go out this summer and clean up a bunch of things. Really, that's going to be on him."
The Hawkeyes next turned to Dylan Nedved, who through 93 pitches Friday against Purdue but still stabilized things Sunday with no earned runs allowed over three innings. Once Duncan Davitt got through his shift next, the Hawkeyes faced a tough but manageable 4-1 hole. Had it stayed right there, Iowa at least had a puncher's chance for some late-inning heroics.
That didn't happen.
Michigan busted things open with a nine-run seventh, cycling through four Iowa relievers en route to three bases-clearing hits. Jared Simpson, Connor Schultz, Will Christopherson and Luke Llewellyn all absorbed tough damage. Iowa's bats, meanwhile, had little response with just one run and three hits.
"Any time you're in a situation like this," Heller said, "if you're going to have a chance, you have to eliminate the free bases. And it was a free-base fest from the start."
It seemed Iowa might flip momentum in the fifth, when Michigan reliever Willie Weiss was ejected for having a foreign substance on his glove. It led to a lengthy delay with Hawkeyes on base, but Cameron Weston closed the door from there on any rally hopes.
Did Iowa do enough this weekend to snag an at-large bid? While winning three consecutive elimination games after dropping a rough one to Penn State Thursday looked good on the field, it did little for RPI improvement. It's shaping up to be another tough Selection Monday in Iowa City. Heller made one final plea Sunday afternoon.
"If we don't get into the tournament, it's a travesty," Heller said. "If anybody deserves to get into the tournament, this team does."
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.