OMAHA — Iowa’s starting pitching hasn’t been the sharpest in recent games, leaving the Hawkeyes in a position where they need to win the Big Ten tournament to reach the NCAA tournament.
Senior Cole McDonald took command and his teammates followed.
McDonald dominated Indiana and Iowa’s bats came through with timely hits in the seventh and eighth innings as the eighth-seeded Hawkeyes upset top-seeded Indiana, 4-2, Wednesday night at TD Ameritrade Park.
Iowa (31-22) advances to play the winner of Minnesota and Nebraska at 9 p.m. Thursday in Omaha.
“Cole said I’m going to stop this tonight,” Iowa Coach Rick Heller said. “Things tend to snowball when a guy steps up and gives you a performance like Cole did.”
The New Hampton product scattered five hits, one earned run, struck out nine and walked one in eight innings of work.
He thought plenty about what could have been his final start for his home-state team, then delivered an impressive performance.
“I love repping the Iowa Hawkeyes across my chest,” McDonald said.
“I wanted to go out there and compete and give us a chance to win. I was just thinking about it being the last start, just thinking to myself, ‘Hey, the last four years have been the greatest of my life.’
“If it was my last game, I wanted to go out on the right note.”
McDonald dominated early, setting down the first nine Indiana batters in order without a ball leaving the infield.
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Indiana put Iowa and McDonald in a bit of predicament in the fifth, sixth and seventh. The Hoosiers plated a run in the sixth, but McDonald induced a double play to escape the threat. McDonald picked up a double play to end the seventh, then retired Indiana in order in the eighth to end his night.
Grant Leonard allowed a pair of two-out hits and a run in the ninth, but was able to pick up his single-season record 14th save.
Iowa’s offense made contact at times early against Indiana starter Pauly Mito.
The third time through the order, the lower half of Iowa’s lineup found success.
Iowa’s first run scored when Ben Norman beat the throw and tag on a base hit by Tanner Wetrich in the seventh — the start of a three-run rally.
Justin Jenkins had three hits in four trips from the nine spot, including a single that kept the rally going in the seventh.
“We were seeing the ball well. Those hard line drives — sooner or later we were going to break out. Luckily in the seventh and eighth, we broke out.”
Senior Chris Whelan had an RBI sacrifice fly in the seventh and sophomore Izaya Fullard added a run-scoring single also in the seventh.
Iowa tacked on a run on a bizarre play in the eighth. Tanner Wetrich’s pop-up in short right field was dropped, allowing a hustling Norman to plate Iowa’s fourth run.