Iowa baseball kicks off World University Games with 3-2 win over Mexico

Opening ceremony gives Hawkeyes memorable experience

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It took more than seven innings, but the bats finally came to life as the Iowa Hawkeyes opened the 29th World University Games with a 3-2 win over Team Mexico on Sunday evening.

After being no-hit by three pitchers for seven innings, Ben Norman led off the eighth with a hit-by-pitch. Robert Neustrom followed with Team USA’s first hit of the game and Tyler Cropley broke a 1-1 tie with a sacrifice fly. Brett McCleary added an insurance run, which turned out to be the game-winner, with an RBI single.

Junior Zach Daniels got the win in relief by pitching the eighth and ninth innings. Starting pitcher Brady Schanuel, a junior transfer was brilliant, throwing 5 1/3 no-hit innings.

“Really, really happy to get a win, especially when we were as sloppy as we were on defense. We have to clean that up,” Coach Rick Heller said, referring to the Hawkeyes’ five errors, including three by the pitchers. “But to get a win tonight was big as far as our confidence goes.”

It has been a busy four days for Team USA and the players will surely enjoy Monday’s rest day.

Since arriving in Taiwan early Thursday, the Hawkeyes played an exhibition game — a 10-5 win over the Czech Republic — and practiced twice. They also participated in a flag-raising ceremony on Friday at the Athletes Village. But the highlight of the trip so far came on Saturday evening as the Hawkeyes marched into Taipei Municipal Stadium at the opening ceremony along with over 7,000 athletes representing 141 countries.

“The opening ceremony was definitely a surreal moment, I think, for all of us,” said junior pitcher Sammy Lizarraga, a Cedar Rapids native. “Walking in front of thousands of fans across the track was not exactly something you get to experience all the time. It was right up there next to the Olympics, I’d have to say, the feeling you get with thousands of fans cheering for you.”

The opening ceremony ended with a spectacular scene where Taiwanese baseball icon Chin-Feng Chen lit the Universiade flame by hitting a ball of fire into the cauldron.

“The last torch bearer was the first Major League Baseball player to come out of Chinese Taipei and to watch him hit a ball all the way up the stadium, on a string, and light the final torch was really something special,” said sophomore outfielder Justin Jenkins. “It kind of shows the value of baseball in this country. It shows the value of sports in general and what Taipei wants to be in the sports world.”

The Hawkeyes (1-0) take on Team Russia (0-1) on Tuesday evening and conclude the group stage against Japan (1-0) on Wednesday morning.

l Comments: (319) 398-8252; nathan.ford@thegazette.com

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