TAIPEI, Taiwan — It wasn’t pretty, but the University of Iowa baseball team survived the Czech Republic’s upset bid in the semifinals at the World University Games on Monday.
Team USA will now play for gold on Tuesday evening after the 8-4 win.
Team USA trailed 4-3 heading into the bottom of the seventh, but loaded the bases with one out. That brought Chris Whelan to the plate, and for the second time in as many games, he delivered the go-ahead run, ripping a two-run single into left to put the Hawkeyes in front for good.
“In that situation, I was really focused on a line drive because I let a couple at-bats before that get away from me with guys on second and third,” said Whelan, who is now second in the tournament with 11 RBOs. “I was really trying to stay out of the air as much as possible.”
Justin Jenkins followed Whelan with a walk and then Robert Neustrom delivered the insurance runs, driving a double to the wall in right-center to plate three. Neustrom continued his hot hitting at the Universiade by going 4-for-5, bringing his tournament average to .407.
Iowa was on upset alert for most of the game as the Czech’s jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first on three hits and two Hawkeyes errors. Iowa then tied the game with three in the third, only to see the Czech Republic retake the lead with a run in the next half-inning. The score remained 4-3 until Iowa scored five in the seventh.
“I feel very fortunate to win,” Iowa Coach Rick Heller said. “I thought we played very sloppy, especially in the first four innings. A couple errors, stranded a bunch of runners, didn’t pitch very well.
“Overall, I’m pleased that we found a way to win. We never quit. But overall it was a pretty sloppy game for us.”
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Zach Daniels earned his second relief win of the tournament by pitching the final three innings. Starter Brady Schanuel gave up four runs — two earned — over three innings, with Nick Allgeyer providing three innings of hitless middle relief.
The semifinals win followed an off day where the Hawkeyes had one last chance to do some sightseeing in Taipei. The team took in the Grand Hotel, which is one of the world’s tallest Chinese classical buildings, and also did some shopping at Taipei’s famed Ximending. But it was the changing of the guards at the National Revolutionary Martyrs’ Shrine that impressed Whelan the most.
“Just seeing the discipline those guys have, standing there for an hour, an hour-and-a-half, just literally not moving a single muscle,” Whelan said.
The Hawkeyes will look to wrap up what already has been a memorable trip by winning a gold medal on Tuesday evening against Japan (6:30 p.m. local time, 5:30 a.m. Iowa time). Iowa is the first American representative to advance to the gold medal baseball game and the Hawkeyes will be the first United States team to win a medal in Universiade history.