Iowa baseball leans on two-out production for win over Michigan in Big Ten Tournament

Dargan Southard
Des Moines Register

OMAHA — It's a productive element that all quality teams usually boast to some degree, but Iowa baseball has taken two-out production to another level this season in forming a potently balanced lineup capable of striking at any point.

It's not just been the volume of two-out success — more so the timing — that makes the Hawkeyes capable of turning any pitcher's duel into an offensive showcase. And man, did Iowa time Tuesday's two-out performance just right.

Immediately after reliever Jack Whitlock stranded three Wolverines with back-to-back-to-back strikeouts that preserved a tie game in the fifth, No. 3 seed Iowa unloaded for six two-out runs in the bottom half to bury Big Ten Tournament nemesis Michigan in the morning opener. Brayden Frazier's grand slam was the monumental blow as the Hawkeyes grabbed a 13-3 run-rule win in eight innings at Charles Schwab Field to advance to the second round.

With off days now factored into this year's bracket, the Hawkeyes (40-13) won't play again until 2 p.m. Thursday against No. 2 seed Indiana. A victory there and Iowa's next game is Saturday's semifinal.

"Thought we fought hard all day long," Iowa coach Rick Heller said.

Brayden Frazier celebrates his grand slam during the fifth inning of Iowa baseball's Big Ten Tournament opener against Michigan Tuesday at Charles Schwab Field in Omaha.

If Iowa was going to position itself to take advantage of the added rest, it needed a strong game one showing after drawing the 10 a.m. time slot again against the Wolverines (26-27). Sometimes it takes a few frames to shake off the morning cobwebs, particularly at the plate, and Tuesday's game fit that billing at 1-1 through 4 1/2.

Newly crowned Big Ten pitcher of the year Connor O'Halloran had kept Iowa quiet most of the morning, even after the Hawkeyes put men on the corners with two down in the momentum-altering fifth. The Michigan ace was one quality pitch away from trotting back to the dugout unscathed.

Sam Hojnar wouldn't let O'Halloran off the hook.

Iowa's southpaw-swinging second baseman whacked an RBI single to left, which plated two after Raider Tello alertly moved into scoring position while trying to draw a balk the pitch before.

That alone would've been noteworthy two-out production as Iowa surged ahead with a 3-1 advantage. But one of the Hawkeyes' many winning traits is the ability to pile on even after the work feels complete. Brayden Frazier got that message loud and clear.

After another two-out hit from Michael Seegers and a Kyle Huckstorf plunking juiced the bases for the Cedar Rapids product, Frazier walloped a grand slam into the Iowa bullpen on a 1-2 count. A tight affair suddenly ballooned into a robust 7-1 Iowa advantage.

"The pitch right before that, I kind of missed one honestly," Frazier said. "I knew that (O'Halloran) might try and come back with it again because that's his gameplan. He's going to go to that slider with two strikes. But as a whole, we were battling him up and down. He's a great pitcher. Tip your cap to him. But I think we just had the upper hand a little bit today."

With star hitter Keaton Anthony sidelined for a 10th straight game, it's been Frazier who's seen his playing time increase the most. His right field defense pairs nicely with his bat, while his five-year loyalty to the program emphasizes the kind of people Heller wants to win with.

"The offense," Heller said, "is as team-oriented as it's been in my 10 years here."

Reaching that massive moment required more clutch work from another guy who's used the season's back half to cement a more substantial role.

While Whitlock has been mostly used as a Brody Brecht piggyback, that experience made him the perfect candidate to relieve an effective but inefficient Marcus Morgan.

It didn't seem like a move trending toward success after Whitlock walked his leadoff man to go with the two free passes Morgan had already issued in the frame. However, Whitlock has pulled pitching wizardry out of his back pocket several times before.

"I got in there," Whitlock said, "and could feel the heart rate up a little bit."

All that came next were three consecutive strikeouts, keeping Michigan off the board while injecting life into an on-edge dugout. Whitlock belted a celebratory yell as he hopped off the mound. His teammates made sure his work didn't go to waste in the bottom half. Sam Petersen capped the two-out production with a three-run homer as part of the Hawkeyes' four-run seventh.

That's how this Iowa team has rolled for much of this season — able to flip a game on its head with swift, effective production. That's part of the numerous reasons why the Hawkeyes are positioned for a lengthy postseason stay.

"The guys just stuck with the plan, and we kept fighting," Heller said. "That was a really gutsy, tough performance."

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