Iowa Stumbles Against NorthwesternAt The Ballpark
EVANSTON, Ill. — Iowa head coach Rick Heller was worried.
Before the Hawkeyes faced a seven-series stretch that featured five ranked teams. Before they played their way onto the bubble, dropping only one of those series. Before they headed to Evanston. Before they took the diamond at Miller Park Friday afternoon. Heller’s concerns predated any of that.
Once he saw the schedule line up with a road series coming after finals, Heller was uneasy. The series being at Northwestern added another level of disturbance. The Wildcats haven’t finished with a winning record since 2000, but they have constantly been a thorn in the Hawkeyes’ side, holding a 28-26 series advantage in the 21st century. Even during Heller’s four-year tenure, in which Iowa has become a routine regional contender, Northwestern has still battled back and forth with the Hawkeyes.
“This is always the week that scares you — coming off finals, they put you on the road and you haven’t had a full practice yet,” Heller said.
He was right to worry. Coaches like routine and the Hawkeyes were out of theirs, entering a paramount series for a bubble team that arrived with an RPI of 49. Iowa hadn’t practiced, didn’t have a midweek game for the first time in 10 weeks and were entering with heavy hearts after the recent death of closer Zach Daniels’ grandfather. Daniels attended the funeral Friday morning and joined the team on the road later, but he and the Hawkeyes were not sharp.
Northwestern delivered an axe blow to the Hawkeyes postseason hopes with a 7-6 extra-inning victory won on Jack Dunn’s two-run walk-off single.
What have been strengths for Iowa (28-27, 9-8) faltered, including the bullpen trio of Daniels, Nick Nelson and Grant Leonard. Twice the offense rallied to take the lead and twice the bullpen couldn’t lock down the victory. The three relievers gave up four runs on four hits, five walks, one wild pitch and one balk.
“Our bullpen wasn’t very good at all today,” Heller said. “We thought with Nelson and Daniels, generally it’s shut the door and it just wasn’t today.
“It was a rough day for [Daniels]. He said he was ready to go. He just didn’t have a sharp day. Then Grant is usually a big-time strike thrower, which he walked the guy and that walk was probably the biggest play in the bottom of the tenth.”
Iowa was down to its last strike in the ninth inning, but stole all the momentum when Justin Jenkins flared a two-run single into right-center field to tie the game. Matt Hoeg’s run-scoring double an inning later gave Iowa a 6-5 advantage, but the Hawkeyes left the bases loaded.
The Wildcats (15-28, 5-17) would not make a similar mistake.
After Leonard issued just his fifth walk of the season, a one-out single put the tying and winning runs on base. A groundout put them in scoring position for Jack Dunn. Dunn felt he was due for a hit after starting the day 0 for 4. He hit a ball back up the middle. It went by Leonard before he could get his glove down and shot off the pitcher’s mound. Iowa had Dunn played up the middle. Second baseman Mitchell Boe laid out for it. The ball got on Boe too quick. It ricocheted off his glove into shallow center field, allowing both runs to score for the game winner.