Iowa Hawkeyes

Iowa baseball's sunny season has dreary Saturday

Hawkeyes take backward step in chase for NCAA berth with 9-4 loss to Michigan State

Iowa baseball players watches action during the Hawkeyes’ 9-4 loss to Michigan State Saturday at Duane Banks Field in Iowa City. (David Harmantas/for The Gazette)
Iowa baseball players watches action during the Hawkeyes’ 9-4 loss to Michigan State Saturday at Duane Banks Field in Iowa City. (David Harmantas/for The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Into every life a little rain must fall. It rained enough to delay the start of Saturday’s Michigan State-Iowa baseball game a half-hour, but it wasn’t nearly enough of a downpour for the Hawkeyes as things turned out.

Three hours and 20 minutes after the first pitch — because doesn’t every baseball game last at least that long these days? — the Hawkeyes had lost 9-4 to the Spartans in a performance as dreary to the crowd of 942 as the weather.

For several dozen fans, though, the day wasn’t a total washout. A lot of kids and parents were allowed to throw baseballs around on the field after the game.

That was a nice slice of Americana for them, but didn’t do much to help the Hawkeyes’ postgame mood.

“We weren’t very good overall,” said Iowa Coach Rick Heller.

“It wasn’t a good day for us,” Hawkeye outfielder Chris Whelan said, “in any area of the game.”

The season is getting late. It’s been another good one for Iowa, one in which they shrugged off an 0-3 start to build a 12-7 Big Ten record and 30-17 overall mark before this loss, one in which they just got inserted in the D1baseball.com Top 25 this week. That’s the Hawkeyes’ first appearance in that poll in four years.

But Iowa has work to do to get on the right side of the ledger when it comes to being an at-large selection in the NCAA tournament in a few weeks if it doesn’t win the Big Ten tournament later this month. Losing to a Michigan State team that is 6-13 in the conference and 18-31 overall hurts.

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However, it’s a Spartans club that won its last two Big Ten series and sent a left-handed pitcher (Mitchell Tyranski) against the Hawkeyes Saturday who had at least nine strikeouts in each of his previous four starts.

“I thought we had a good plan for him,” Heller said. “We just couldn’t get the knockout blow.”

The MSU lead was just 4-3 after five innings. But the Spartans scored in every frame from the sixth to the ninth.

“We felt if we kept it close we would have had a decent chance at the end,” said Heller, “but the bullpen didn’t give us the chance to keep it close.”

Of 11 Big Ten home games, this was just Iowa’s second clunker. It doesn’t necessarily mean anything for Sunday’s game here against Michigan State, or next week’s three games at Maryland, or the following week’s Big Ten tourney in Omaha. The Hawkeyes still have a path to their third NCAA appearance in five seasons, but the margin of error got a little tighter Saturday.

“It takes 35 guys,” said Heller. “It can’t be the same five all the time.”

Sunday’s game will be the home finale for Iowa’s seven seniors, including leadoff man Whelan. And, infielder Mitchell Boe, who hasn’t played since suffering four facial breaks after colliding with right fielder Zeb Adreon when the two chased a pop fly.

Boe has started 166 games over his four seasons and has been part of four 30-win teams. He has been cleared to return to play Sunday.

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“Tomorrow is a big one,” Whelan said. “Everybody wants to send the seniors off the right way. We’re going to get great effort for sure. We’ve got to have tomorrow.”

Ah, tomorrow. From behind home plate at Duane Banks Field, you could see thousands of people streaming out of Carver-Hawkeye Arena after graduation ceremonies there had ended.

Those seniors’ tomorrow starts today. Knock it out of the park, grads. We need the help a lot more than Heller needs two or three shutout innings from his relief pitchers.

l Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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