HOUSTON – Top-seeded Houston threw its ace Trey Cumbie on Friday against Iowa. The fourth-seeded Hawkeyes definitely had the Cougars’ attention prior to Game 2 of the Houston Regional.’
The Hawkeyes earned more than respect on Friday, surprising the Cougars 6-3 and advancing to the winners bracket. When the Hawkeyes play Texas A&M on Saturday at 7 p.m., the Hawkeyes will be throwing their ace – junior right-hander Nick Gallagher (8-1) – against the Aggies.
“It makes you feel good (going with your ace),” Iowa coach Rick Heller said. “He just needs to go out and compete. Hopefully, he has his good stuff and puts us in a good spot.”
The Hawkeyes are in good position by knocking off the 15th-ranked Cougars (40-21) and riding the momentum from last week’s Big Ten tournament championship.
“We were really motivated coming here to play because as a team from the North, people aren’t really expecting it,” said Ben Norman, who reached base safely four times, and had three of the team’s 13 hits to make a winner out of Ryan Erickson (4-3), who pitched an effective five innings.
“It’s nice coming down here and making an impact.”
Iowa (39-20), which never trailed, got contributions from a number of players on a night where second-team All-America first baseman Jake Adams went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. In the first inning, with the wind blowing in from right field, Adams just missed by feet hitting his NCAA-leading 28th home run.
But it was a heady play at first base by Adams that changed the game’s momentum. On an appeal, a potential game-tying run on a double by Lael Lockhart was disallowed. Lockhart was called out on appeal for not touching first base and the Hawkeyes holding a 4-3 lead.
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“It’s part of our routine,” Heller said. “The first baseman’s job is to make sure that the runner touches first base, before he trails and heads to second base. A savvy play by Jake.
“Sometimes those plays get missed. (The umpire) saw the same thing that Jake did. It was a big play at the time.”
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On Friday, things went the way of the Hawkeyes, who had their leadoff batter reach base in five of the first six innings off Cumbie (10-2), who allowed four runs (three earned) and 10 hits over 5 1/3 innings.
Robert Neustrom, Chris Whelan, Tyler Cropley and Mitchell Boe added two hits each for the Hawkeyes. The Hawkeyes collected six of the game’s first seven hits.
“We were really disciplined up and down the lineup,” Heller said. “We weren’t going to chase Cumbie’s changeup and forced him to come into the zone. That way we got some pitches to hit.
“We were hitting balls hard most of the night. Just a good night for us offensively.”
Erickson made his 12th start of the season for the Hawkeyes, leaving with a 4-3 lead after pitching to one batter – a walk – in the sixth. The lefthander allowed three runs (two earned) and four hits.
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“It was a grinder type of night,” Erickson said. “Changeup was pretty much hit or miss.”
After pitching three scoreless innings, Erickson struggled in the fourth, allowing two runs. His wild pitch allowed Joe Davis to score from third, tying the game 2-2. Erickson got out of the inning by picking off Jared Triolo at third base for the final out.
Josh Martsching pitched 2 2/3 scoreless innings for his eighth save. Martsching got out of a seventh-inning situation by retiring the Cougars’ No. 3 and 4 batters in the lineup with runners at second and third and the Hawkeyes clinging to a 4-3 lead.
Iowa scored the game’s first run in the top of the second, but an outstanding play by center fielder Corey Julks deprived the Hawkeyes of possibly two more runs.
Norman’s one-out infield hit scored Cropley from third base, putting runners on first and second. Whelan, who opened the game with an infield single, hit a shot in the left-center alley that appeared to be going for extra bases. But Julks had other ideas. The speedy outfielder tracked down the ball and made a leaping catch just before hitting the wall for the third out.
Neustrom’s sharp up-the-middle single in the fifth scored Mason McCoy from second, giving Iowa a 3-2 lead. Iowa had gone ahead 2-0 in the fourth on back-to-back two-out doubles by Norman and Boe.
Houston won the American Athletic Conference Tournament and shared the regular-season championship.
In the first game on Friday at Schroeder Park, Texas A&M overcame a third-inning grand slam from Aaron Dodson to rally past Baylor 8-5.