Iowa baseball topples Nebraska for series-opening win
IOWA CITY — You know what you sign up for weather-wise when donning the Iowa baseball colors, but that doesn’t make enduring conditions like Friday’s any more enjoyable. With a blend of stiff wind and nagging rain as temperatures hovered around 40 degrees, the Hawkeyes had no choice but to embrace it all amid this pivotal weekend.
Brody Brecht wasn’t his sharpest. Iowa’s offense waited until late to eliminate all drama. But the efforts from both parties propped up the Hawkeyes enough to let clutch high-leverage bullpen work and a messy Nebraska seventh take Rick Heller’s squad home, as Iowa picked up an 11-6 series-opening win over Nebraska at Duane Banks Field.
"An intense game, great crowd," Heller said. "Appreciate the crowd coming out to support us on a cold night. It was a great way to start the series, especially when we need to get back into the (Big Ten) race."
Back home on the weekend for the first time in three weeks, now with the Iowa athletics spotlight all to themselves minus Saturday’s spring-practice finale, the Hawkeyes (27-10, 5-5 Big Ten Conference) couldn’t afford to start this series with a Cornhusker dud. A nice Nebraska contingency spent pregame tailgating in the parking lots and made plenty of noise in-game. Starting off on the wrong foot would’ve put Iowa in a tough spot the rest of the weekend.
Brecht has taken over Friday nights since Big Ten play commenced — and while the command and control remains a work in progress to reach full ace status, Brecht does a decent job of mitigating damage even when trouble arises.
He did plenty of that Friday, needing 102 pitches to push through four-plus innings while surrendering four runs but just two hits. Brecht also walked seven and struck out seven with four wild pitches, watching as Nebraska (21-11-1, 7-3) cashed in two free passes and a hit by pitch for its four runs.
"Not acceptable," Brecht said. "I feel like I'm a lot better pitcher than what I've been showing lately. Just got to clean some stuff up, locate the fastball. Can't just be having one pitch or they're just going to sit on it. Just have to go back to the fundamentals, get things how they were before these last two weeks."
Brecht did keep the scoreboard denting contained despite the bevy of baserunners He ended three of his four frames with strikeouts that stranded Nebraska runners, buying his offense time to pick up the slack on the other end.
"It's good to face adversity," Brecht said. "I feel like I've been facing adversity a lot these past two weeks, being able to battle and continue to show I can handle it and get out of it when I need to."
Easing any Brecht concerns were a pair of five-run Iowa innings — one early, one late — that differed in thump but mirrored each other in two-out production.
Keaton Anthony walloped the initial blow, cranking a three-run homer to a wind-friendly right field that handed Iowa a 5-0 advantage in the second. But he wouldn’t have gotten the chance had the Hawkeyes not executed two key two-out at-bats. A run-scoring knock from ninth-place hitter Cade Moss paired with an infield single leadoff man Ben Wilmes beat out to get Anthony to the plate. He rewarded their efforts with the biggest bop of the night.
Anthony was in the middle of Iowa’s five-run seventh as well, smacking an RBI single to left that supplied the Hawkeyes with a 9-4 cushion. First, though, it took a pair of Hawkeyes reaching with two outs to give Anthony that chance. Iowa took the opening Nebraska provided and added two more insurance runs after Anthony’s knock, maximizing the comfort for Iowa’ struggling bullpen.
On this night, the relievers were anything but a liability. Jack Whitlock punched out five over 2 1/3 innings after Brecht exited. Luke Llewellyn set up Iowa’s back-breaking seventh by inducing an inning-ending double play with the tying runs on in the top half.
On a evening few will remember for its glorious forecast, Iowa remained locked in on conquering this weekend opener. The first of many productive steps Iowa will need in this final month.
"Great momentum to open the weekend," Anthony said, "and we're just going to build off this the next two days."
Dargan Southard is a sports trending reporter and covers Iowa athletics for the Des Moines Register and HawkCentral.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.