The Iowa baseball team fell 3-2 to the Missouri State Bears Sunday night and was knocked out of the NCAA tournament.
By Ian Murphy
SPRINGFIELD, MO—The offensive struggles plaguing the Iowa baseball team over the final outings of the season finally caught up to it Sunday.
After 11th inning heroics by junior Daniel Aaron Moriel staved off elimination by one more game in the win over Oregon, the Hawkeyes managed just three hits and a handful of base-runners against Missouri State’s Jordan Knutson, a left hander who pitched 7.0 full innings.
After Sam Perez bridged a third of an inning, closer Bryan Young locked down the Hawkeyes the rest of the night.
“It was a strange game,” Iowa head coach Rick heller said. “It was a great game, but it was a strange game.
“It’s one of those games you aren’t going to feel good about for a while.”
It’s an accomplishment the Hawkeyes were as competitive in the tournament as long as they were, given they only scored 8 runs in 39 innings. But still, it doesn’t lessen the impact of being eliminated.
And to go down while giving up only 3 hits to Missouri State, thanks to a herculean effort on the mound by senior Nick Hibbing, who threw a combined 117 pitches and 8.2 innings over Sunday’s games, only makes the loss sting that much more.
The Hawkeyes only posed one serious threat to the Bears over the course of Sunday’s game, tallying two runs after a trio of singles loaded the bases in the top of the eighth.
Senior Nick Day grounded into a fielder’s choice to score junior Nick Roscetti, and junior Tyler Peyton drew a walk to score the second and only run of the game.
With the bases still loaded, senior Kris Goodman struck out to end the Hawkeye half of the eighth.
“It’s unfortunate that it didn’t happen,” Goodman said. “You get in the tournament and everyone’s good.”
The offense, clicking during the middle of the Big Ten campaign, stalled to a complete stop over the last three weeks of the season as poor performances at Rutgers and in the Big Ten tournament carried over to the regional.
Heller said a number of reasons contributed to the struggles in the batter’s box, but chief among them were slumps among his top hitters and lights out pitching by the Bears, who feature a rotation of three starters projected to be drafted.
“We were facing good pitchers,” Heller said. “If you have a hole in your swing at this point in the season, everyone knows it.”
Heller said he hoped his slumping hitters, mostly at the top half of the order who showed no holes in their swings most of the season, would pick it back up in the regional, but things didn’t go according to plan.
Senior Jake Mangler, Peyton, and Goodman, Iowa’s two, three, and clean-up hitters, all went hitless in both of Sunday’s two games.
Missouri State did not impress on offense either, tallying just three hits as Hibbing, junior Luke Vandermaten, and junior Tyler Radtke allowed just two hits over the remaining eight innings.
However, the Bears capitalized on early walks by Iowa’s starter junior Connor Grant, and jumped out to a 1-0 lead with a sacrifice fly. The lead seemed untouchable for much of the rest of the game, and nearly insurmountable after adding a pair of runs in the sixth.
While things didn’t go according to plan, (the plan being winning the regional) the Hawkeyes, who topped Oregon twice on the weekend and finished with a 41-18 record on the season, despite momentarily backing up on offense, got back into full gear as a program.
“Even though we didn’t get it done today, I think we’ve set ground for Iowa baseball for years and years and years to come,” Hibbing said. “To know that everybody who comes in, you can go win a championship at any level.”
Photo: Nick Hibbing and his father embrace after the Hawkeyes loss to the Missouri State Bears in the NCAA Regionals. The Bears beat the Hawkeyes 3-2 and eliminated them from the tournament. (The Daily Iowan/Margaret Kispert)