Iowa baseball finishes off Michigan State sweep behind dominant Brody Brecht start
IOWA CITY — Through several frustrating ends to seasons that carried plenty of regional potential, the Iowa baseball team knows May offers little time to breathe even when the weekend work seems complete.
For the third straight home series, the Hawkeyes trekked into Sunday with two wins in two days — looking to finish off a sweep that would add more room between Iowa and the dreaded NCAA Tournament bubble. Iowa did so against Nebraska but failed to do so last weekend versus Ohio State. With Brody Brecht shifted to Sunday for a bit of extra rest that Rick Heller hoped would make a difference, the Hawkeyes trotted out their most explosive arm for Michigan State to deal with.
Dynamic, was he ever.
Brecht looked like his early-season self, carving up the Spartans for five relentless innings before limiting damage in a messy sixth. Pair that with a few early offensive fireworks, and the Hawkeyes sent the Spartans home with nothing to complete the weekend sweep, 5-1, at Duane Banks Field. Iowa (37-12, 13-7 Big Ten Conference) had a 9-0 win on Friday and a 8-6 victory on Saturday.
"We've said that this team had a chance to be special since the fall. We talked about it a lot," Heller said. "It takes what it takes, and I feel like they've finally figured out what it takes."
If Iowa is going to ultimately cement this season as one of the most memorable in school history, the Hawkeyes need Brecht to be right after going more than a month without reaching the fifth inning. At his best, no Big Ten lineup can hang. But the control issues and constant traffic that have repeatedly plagued Brecht were taking over his starts and draining Iowa's bullpen.
Sunday, there was almost none of that.
Brecht carved up Michigan State (29-19, 10-11) for two runs through the order, retiring 13 straight at one point with three consecutive 1-2-3 frames. The fastball carried plenty of life, while the hammer slider had Spartans whiffing left and right. Brecht yielded just one hit — to the game's second batter — with six strikeouts.
Three of those punchouts couldn't have come at a better time. Brecht's only inning with the traffic was the sixth, when the Ankeny product walked four to produce Michigan State's only run. Amid those free passes, though, were three strikeouts — the final one stranding three Spartans and preserving Iowa's 3-1 advantage.
"Just continuing to trust the process and continuing to keep working," Brecht said. "That's part of baseball, a lot of ups and downs. But just the way I prepared this week — the way I went about my business — just being in control and being in a rhythm out there really paid off."
Get-right efforts appeared beyond the mound. Michael Seegers launched just his second homer since March 6 to hand the Hawkeyes a 2-0 lead in the second. Kyle Huckstorf, after dropping down to seventh in the order, responded with two hits and a run scored in the fourth. Struggling Raider Tello supplied clutch insurance with a two-run single in the seventh.
Given how this week started for Iowa baseball, answering back with an emphatic sweep offers evidence this Hawkeyes team is ready to break through the wall of recent regional misses. Iowa will head to lowly Northwestern with an RPI in the high 20s or low 30s, plenty good enough to absorb the Wildcats' horrendous metrics while remaining in the NCAA Tournament picture. A sweep is what the Hawkeyes want, but it may not be necessary after the weekend's strong work.
All a part of the May push Iowa is hoping to conquer. Confidence should be bubbling from the home dugout that this year is different.
"It definitely feels a lot different this year," Seegers said. "It feels really special. Just the whole team, we can rely on everybody."
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.