IOWA CITY — The momentum from that series win against California-Irvine last weekend? That’s gone.
The chance to obtain an at-large NCAA tournament berth? It’s fading.
Qualifying for the Big Ten Conference tournament? Still hasn’t been done.
The last game of the season at Duane Banks Field? A bust.
That sums just about everything up perfectly right now for the Iowa baseball team, which let a lead slip away late in a disappointing 7-5 loss to Michigan State on Senior Day.
The Spartans (19-32) came to Iowa City this weekend 12th out of 13 teams in the Big Ten Conference but came away with the series thanks to back-to-back Ws Saturday and Sunday. Contrarily, this ended a streak of six consecutive series victories for Iowa (30-19).
“It hurts, for sure,” said Iowa Coach Rick Heller. “But if we can go out and get hot here, we’ve got four more to play, (so) if we play well and play well in the conference tournament, if we get in, we can still do some damage. But, yeah, it definitely hurt today.”
Iowa is 12-9 in the Big Ten with a road series at Maryland to end the regular season. There’s also a Tuesday non-conference game at Western Illinois to try and pad the resume.
Making it to the conference tournament still looks pretty good for the Hawkeyes, but going into Sunday, they were in sixth place and there were 11 Big Ten teams with 11 losses or fewer. Bottom line is there’s still some work to do.
“There’s really no other option. I know these guys, and we’re going to respond well,” said Iowa relief pitcher Trace Hoffman. “We’re going to give it everything we can to make a push here at the end of the season.”
Things were going great for Iowa through the first six innings of this one. Starting pitcher Grant Judkins was dealing, and Iowa built a 4-1 lead.
But the seventh was not good. Hoffman came on for Judkins to start the inning, and Michigan State rallied.
Bryce Kelley singled through a mostly vacated right side for a two-out RBI single, Bryce Chmielewski was hit by a pitch and Marty Bechina cleared the loaded bases with a double to the gap in right-center.
He then scored on an ensuing Royce Ando single to make it a five-run frame and a 6-4 MSU lead.
“They executed. That’s all they did,” Hoffman said. “They executed well. You tip your cap to them.”
Michigan State added an insurance run in the ninth against record-setting Iowa closer Grant Leonard, which turned out to be big. The Hawkeyes scored a run on a two-out throwing error, which also placed Izaya Fullard, the tying runner, at second base.
But Austin Martin, Iowa’s RBI leader, flew to center field to end it.
“I really liked how we came out and played,” Heller said. “We had a great start out of Judkins, and our offense, I thought was pretty solid, had good at-bats. We had everything right where we wanted it to be. We had our guys in place. We just didn’t get it done today. They’re super hot, and we had no answer for Ando and today Kelley. We just couldn’t get them out.”
Ando and Kelley had three hits apiece for Michigan State, which has won nine of its last 12 games. Second baseman Mitchell Boe had a single, double and a pair of runs in his return to the lineup.
Boe suffered a concussion and multiple facial fractures colliding with teammate Zeb Adreon while chasing a pop fly in a game in late April.
ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT
“We didn’t play poorly or anything,” Heller said. “We just ran into a team that is playing super hot right now and got beat. We just got beat today.”
l Comments: (319) 398-8259; firstname.lastname@example.org