Leistikow: Hawkeyes' unlikely rally has a hero to match
OMAHA, Neb. — In football, the quarterback takes the snap with the game on the line.
In basketball, the star player takes the last shot.
In baseball, moments for someone like Devin Pickett can be found.
Of the 27 players wearing an Iowa uniform Friday, Pickett was probably the unlikeliest to be the hero of the Hawkeyes' stunning 5-4, 10-inning win against Ohio State at the Big Ten Conference tournament.
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In four years in the Hawkeye program, Pickett entered Friday with five hits in 30 career at-bats. Yet there at home plate he stood in the bottom of the ninth inning, ready to face dominant Buckeyes closer Yianni Pavlopoulos. Only the biggest game of Iowa’s season was at stake.
“Surprisingly, I wasn’t nervous,” Pickett said.
He remembered two words coach Rick Heller told him before the big two-out at-bat, with the Hawkeyes trailing 4-3 and teammates on first and second base: “Have fun.”
Heller told Pickett two other things.
One, take the first pitch. He did.
Two, look for a fastball. On Pavlopoulous’ second offering, Pickett got one and swung.
Pickett was jammed by the pitch, but he struck the ball with just enough juice that it carried over shortstop Craig Nennig’s head into left-center field for a single. Austin Guzzo raced home. The score was tied, 4-4, completing a four-run Hawkeye ninth.
Iowa’s dugout erupted — with joy for extra innings and for their teammate.
“He’s been fighting his whole career here,” said starting shortstop Nick Roscetti, who would know. He’s been Pickett’s roommate for four years. “Hasn’t got many chances.”
Pickett had two at-bats as a freshman. Then a redshirt season. Six at-bats in Year 3.
No one would’ve blamed him if he had left baseball, or at minimum checked out mentally.
“Instead of complaining and whining,” Heller said, “he became the best teammate he could possibly be.”
Pickett couldn’t have known a chance like Friday’s would have come along. Yet he didn't seem surprised. He entered the game as a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning with Iowa struggling to break through against Buckeyes starter John Havird.
“The coaches have a lot of faith in me, being a senior. I have a lot of faith in myself,” he said, before getting a little emotional. “Big man upstairs was with me.”
Pickett’s Twitter profile references a Bible verse, Luke 1:37: “For with God nothing shall be impossible.”
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May has been his month to defy the odds. Twelve days ago, the Flossmoor, Ill., native walked across Iowa's graduation stage to become the first member of his family to earn a college degree.
Friday, he recorded his first collegiate RBI.
I received a few tweets comparing what Pickett did Friday to Warren Holloway catching a Hail Mary pass for his first career touchdown on the final play of his career in the 2005 Capital One Bowl.
Though he has another year of baseball eligibility, this season might be it for him. That might've been his last at-bat. If it was, that's going out with a bang.
No wonder Pickett was in a euphoric daze amid his first — and maybe last — postgame interview as a Hawkeye.
“Yeah, I know,” he smiled. “This is special. Right now, I don’t want it to end. We just want to keep this thing rolling and see where we can get.”
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 22 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.