The Iowa baseball team now must win three games in a row to stay alive in the NCAA tournament.
by Ian Murphy
SPRINGFIELD, MO—The Iowa baseball team’s road to Omaha took a sharp detour on Saturday after a 5-3 loss to the Missouri State Bears.
The Hawkeyes, who won their first postseason game in 43 years with a 3-1 decision over the Oregon Ducks on Friday, now find themselves fighting for their season in the loser’s bracket of the regional, and are facing a win-or-go home scenario over their next three games.
“We have to completely forget about that,” senior Jake Mangler said. “It’s on to the next game.”
The next game will be a rematch with the same Oregon Ducks Iowa relegated to the bottom half of the bracket Friday. With the first pitch scheduled for 2 p.m. CT, the Hawkeyes will need to have a short memory.
Junior Calvin Matthews, Iowa’s regular Sunday starter, could use a dose of forgetfulness too. Matthews last outing came in a Big Ten tournament elimination game with the Indiana Hoosiers. The Hoosiers chased Matthews from the game after 2.1 innings while blasting him for seven earned runs on seven hits.
After the Indiana game, Matthews said he felt in command of his pitches and gave credit to Indiana for hitting well.
Oregon has just one starter batting over .300, which should bode well for Iowa. Additionally, senior reliever Brandon Shulista played a key role in Saturday’s loss by pitching 4.1 innings, helping to limit the number of relievers the Hawkeyes used.
“It was fantastic,” Heller said. “He did an amazing job for us. Things were going downhill pretty fast for us, and Brandon came in and pounded the strike zone.
“That’s what we needed someone to do at that point.”
There were struggles at the plate too, as the Hawkeyes left seven runners on during the game.
However, the Hawks have to get through more than just the Ducks. Advancing to the super regional would require them to rattle off two wins over Missouri State as well.
A win over the Ducks would present a challenge of its own. Iowa, regardless of Sunday’s outcome against Oregon, will have exhausted its weekend pitching rotation of junior Tyler Peyton, junior Blake Hickman, and junior Calvin Matthews. And while there are arms in the bullpen that have not thrown this weekend, none offer the same amount of reliability the weekend starters do.
“We’ve got some guys we can go to,” Heller said. “We’re set up to handle it about as good as anybody.”
Those arms include midweek starter freshman Nick Gallagher, sophomore Jared Mandel, and juniors Luke Vandermaten and Connor Grant.
Saturday did not go how the Hawkeyes would have liked, but Sunday provides an opportunity for the Hawks to play not just one, but two games with their season on the line.
One thing is certain: the winner of Sunday’s Oregon-Iowa matchup has to go through Missouri State in order to stay alive.
“Tomorrow we have to come back with a completely new mindset,” Mangler said. “We’re fighting for our lives, so right now it’s just getting back to who we are and playing our game.”