6 minutes with Iowa baseball after second-round Big Ten Tournament win over Indiana
Hear from the Hawkeyes after their thrilling second-round Big Ten Tournament win over Indiana.
Dargan Southard, Hawk Central
OMAHA — Given the way Iowa baseball has bopped the last month in showcasing its offensive potency, Thursday’s stretch of missed opportunities seemed out of place. Offer up enough scoring chances and the Hawkeyes are bound to burst through.
With one monumental whack to left — and a huge helping of ninth-inning insurance — Iowa emphatically ended all scoring-situation frustration.
Kyle Huckstorf’s three-run RBI double in the seventh inning capped a four-run frame that handed Iowa the lead for good, then Sam Petersen finished off a four-run ninth with a long homer through a stiff wind blowing in. Those knocks paired together propelled the No. 3 seed Hawkeyes past second-seeded Indiana, 9-4, in the Big Ten Tournament’s second round at Charles Schwab Field Omaha.
Iowa now advances to Saturday’s semifinals, where the winner of Indiana-Michigan will need to beat the Hawkeyes (41-13) twice to reach Sunday’s title game.
“We just had to keep sticking to our plan,” Huckstorf said, “and we knew it’d all come through in the end.”
Through six innings Thursday, Iowa had left an entire flock of runners on base even with Indiana ace Luke Sinnard creating tough at-bats on the other side. The Hawkeyes didn’t score with bases loaded in the first, then left a pair on in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings as the Hoosiers constructed a 4-1 advantage.
When the same situation arose in the seventh, it felt like the make-or-break moment for Iowa to pounce. Sam Hojnar dented Indiana a little with an RBI single. Huckstorf busted the door down with the bases juiced two hitters later.
Remember, it was Huckstorf who lit up Indiana last year with an unforgettable three-homer, 12-RBI evening. On that night, Iowa’s swift center fielder was all energy and emotion. He oozed out more of the same Thursday while standing on second, after crushing a first-pitch double down into the left-field corner as three Hawkeyes zoomed around the bases.
“We could really use him turning into the hot Huck we’ve seen before,” Heller said, “like he was when we played Indiana at the end of the season last year. When he gets going, he can really roll and carry you for a while.”
A late-inning advantage, though, doesn’t hold up without quality pitching work — and Will Christophersen turned in plenty of it with six strikeouts over 2 1/3 relief innings. He punched out five in a row immediately after Iowa grabbed the lead, taking shutdown innings to a new level.
It was execution in those tense situations that kept Indiana chasing and allowed Iowa to pile on without warning. After Ben Wilmes’ ninth-inning RBI single gave Iowa a vital insurance run, Petersen removed all doubt with his second homer of the tournament deep into the left-field bullpen.
“If we’re scoring runs, I’ve got to get them back in the dugout so they can continue doing it,” Christophersen said. “Going out there, I was just trying to throw strikes and tried to get quick innings.”
The late action got Brody Brecht off the hook after he pushed through a grueling outing. Beginnings are usually telling for Brecht, and Thursday’s opening had ominous elements all around. The right-hander walked the game’s first hitter and plunked the second, both Hoosiers eventually scoring on Brock Tibbitts’ two-run double that put Iowa in a first-inning hole.
Brecht encountered trouble again in the second and nearly wiggled all the way free, before firing a two-out wild pitch that allowed Indiana’s Hunter Jessee to score for a 3-0 Hoosiers lead. Approaching 55 pitches through two frames offered little hope for a salvageable start.
Brecht did settle in a bit from there, squeezing out 4 2/3 innings with four hits and three runs surrendered while walking three and striking out five. He retired nine of 11 hitters between the second and fourth innings before running into fifth-inning trouble that Jared Simpson eventually cleaned up.
“It at least wasn’t a collapse,” Heller said. “He was really struggling to hit with his slider early in the game, and that got him off-kilter a little bit because he turned into a one-pitch pitcher. They were able to do a little damage on him.
“… But he fought. He was starting to get the slider back at the end of his outing. Gave us enough to help us really protect the bullpen.”
At that point, Iowa was searching on hands and knees for any momentum that could shake this one up. The pitcher’s duel this one was billed as had taken form, and the Hawkeyes had to claw away just to survive.
This group, doesn’t wilt, though, when the pressure intensifies. No matter how much early adversity, there could be a late, game-altering push lurking at any moment. Two of them have Iowa firmly in control of the Big Ten Tournament bracket.
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.