Iowa baseball maintains at-large stability with series win over Northwestern

Dargan Southard
Des Moines Register

For a program that's encountered unprecedented adversity — along with the usual Big Ten baseball obstacles — en route to the NCAA Tournament's doorstep, it was only fitting the Hawkeyes created a little more tension in this final weekend.

Equally as on-brand was Iowa's' crisp and timely response, which again keeps a potentially memorable season on the desired tracks.

Staring at a series loss to Big Ten cellar dweller Northwestern that would've drastically altered Iowa's Big Ten Tournament mindset, the Hawkeyes avoided disaster with a crisp Brody Brecht outing and late, doubt-removing offense. Saturday's final product was a 10-0 win at Rocky and Berenice Miller Park in Evanston, Illinois, supplying Iowa (39-13, 14-8 Big Ten Conference) with a crucial winning weekend.

With Indiana holding on over Michigan State in that series finale, Iowa finishes as the No. 3 seed and will face No. 6 seed Michigan (26-26, 13-11) at 10 a.m. Tuesday in the Big Ten Tournament. The Wolverines entered the final weekend in a three-way tie for fourth place, but Ohio State swept Michigan to end the regular season.

As much as Iowa's stunning Friday loss, which snapped Northwestern's 16-game Big Ten losing streak and marked its first conference win since April 9, made Saturday more intense than Rick Heller would've liked, the Hawkeyes had the wiggle room to absorb one Wildcat stumble without a narrative change. Demanding one sweep after another, even against the league's clear-cut worst team, is a tough ask — and Iowa had already racked up two perfect weekends within the last month to put itself in this position.

Panic was only valid if the Hawkeyes delivered a second Evanston no-show. Brecht set the tone early that wasn't going to happen.

After a rough slide through conference play's middle portion, Iowa's most electric arm has delivered back-to-back gems in crucial spots. Brecht followed up his Michigan State dominance with six spotless innings of one-hit ball, while walking only one and punching out nine. More than 63% of his 79 pitches were strikes. At one point, Brecht retired 17 straight Wildcats to keep Iowa locked in a 0-0 tie while waiting for his offense to warm up.

The Hawkeyes did in the sixth, breaking through on Ben Wilmes' bunt single that plated Brayden Frazier. Brennen Dorighi delivered the comforting shot with a two-run homer shortly after. The Hawkeyes removed all drama with a seven-run eighth, bookending nicely with the offensive outburst Iowa produced to start this series.

With no losing weekends over their final six series following a 2-4 league start, Iowa has the strong closing push to match a quality Big Ten RPI in the mid-30s. For the first time since Heller's second season in 2015, the Hawkeyes should head to the conference tournament knowing they're dancing regardless of what happens.

Would it be wise to go 0-2 in Omaha? Probably not, for a multitude of reasons. But potentially losing an at-large bid shouldn't be one of them. Iowa likely won't be able to change much (if anything) pitching-wise with an extra day added to the Big Ten Tournament, plus Tuesday's early start.

Regardless, the Hawkeyes did what they needed against the Big Ten's worst. To what level of special Iowa elevates this season is now fully in their hands rather than the selection committee's.

Dargan Southard is a sports trending reporter and covers Iowa athletics for the Des Moines Register and Email him at