The Iowa baseball team fell to the Missouri State Bears 5-3 in the second round of the Springfield regional of the NCAA baseball tournament.
By Ian Murphy
SPRINGFIELD, MO—Iowa baseball’s usually sharp pitching was anything but on Saturday as the Missouri State Bears capitalized on a litany of walks to down the Hawkeyes 5-3.
Junior Blake Hickman’s struggles on the mound continued as he went only 3.2 innings, threw 87 pitches, and walked 5 batters, giving up two earned runs in the process. He was also called for a balk.
“I just kind of lost it there. I kept trying to battle,” Hickman said. “Things just got away from me.”
Things got away from other Hawkeyes too, however. Junior reliever Ryan Erickson, a left hander often brought in following the right-handed Hickman to deal with left handed hitters which Hickman struggles with, did not pitch sharp either.
Erickson’s line read similar to Hickman’s, although his stint on the mound was much shorter. He threw just 2/3 of an inning, walking two against four hits and three earned runs after a string of one RBI singles by the Bears.
Senior Brandon Shulista’s 4.1 innings of work were strong, retiring eight straight before hitting Missouri State’s Jake Burger and recording a balk of his own.
Shulista, who saw little action down the stretch of the regular season and into the Big Ten tournament because of the dominance of Erickson, senior Nick Hibbing, and junior Luke Vandermaten, worked out of a two-on, one-out jam left by Erickson in the fifth, and then sat the next six batters he faced in what head coach Rick Heller called the performance the team needed on the mound.
However, with two balks and a combined 194 pitches from four pitchers, the overall performance on the mound perplexed Heller.
“Blake [Hickman] has had some issue early on where he’s lost command,” Heller said. “We’re talking about two out and nobody on [in the fourth inning] and he walks three in a row, who knows.
“I can’t remember a day where [Erickson] couldn’t throw his slider for a strike, and he couldn’t tonight.”
Iowa looked to be rolling early. Through two innings, the Hawkeyes held a 2-0 lead acquired by a one RBI single by junior Daniel Aaron Moriel and Nick Roscetti scoring on an error.
However, that would be the bulk of the scoring, as the Hawkeyes’ ninth inning rally stalled at just one run.
“It started out as a pretty good day for us. We were able to put some pressure on Missouri State and force some defensive mistakes we were able to take advantage off,” Heller said. “We ended up walking a lot of guys . . . that was kind of our demise. Our bullpen has been solid all year long.”
Absent was the Hawkeye bullpen, and absent was the Hawkeye offense, as six runners touched first base through the remaining seven innings.
Credit Missouri State’s Matt Hall, who settled in after the second inning and struck out 11 Hawkeyes to bring his nation-leading total to 163, with a crowd of 5,112, mostly donned with Missouri State’s Maroon and White, cheering on his every strike.
However, the Hawkeyes are not making excuses for their performance.
“He was kind of working both sides of the plate,” senior Jake Mangler said. “He pitched a great game for them.”
Saturday’s outing amounted to a frustrating day at the ball park for the Hawkeyes, who now need to win three straight games, the first being a victory over Oregon in Sunday’s elimination game at 2 p.m., to advance to the super regionals.
Moving on from Saturday’s loss will be key for the Hawkeyes, but figuring out what went wrong on the mound may be a more pressing need before Sunday’s first pitch.
“I have no idea really,” Heller said. “I felt like we kind of had the right guy sitting there and he just didn’t have it at all.”