Memories of the play still rattle around in Tom Hurn’s head.
In the summer of 1972, Iowa’s baseball team made its only appearance in the College World Series. The Hawkeyes’ first-round draw was Arizona State, the No. 1-ranked team with a 60-4 record and a handful of future major leaguers on its roster.
Iowa was a decided underdog but pushed the Sun Devils to the limit before falling, 2-1. The game was played before 13,848 people in Omaha’s Rosenblatt Stadium.
Perhaps the most pivotal moment in that game came in the sixth inning. Iowa had trimmed SU’s lead to 2-1 on a Jim Sundberg triple and Larry Schutzius single. Hurn, a sophomore first baseman out of Cedar Rapids Washington, went to the plate with two outs and runners on first and second. Hurn worked the count full against future major leaguer Craig Swan before lacing a sinking drive to center field.
ASU’s Gary Atwell stabbed the liner for what was ruled an out but virtually every Hawkeye — and some Sun Devil players — viewed in differently. One can only speculate how the game might have turned out had the ball gotten by Atwell.
“I only replay that about three times a day,” Hurn said this week. “The guy made a diving catch. I saw it as a trap but that was through my glasses. One of our pitchers, Bill Heckroth, was talking to some Arizona State players after the game and they said it was a trap.”
Duane Banks, then in his second full season as Iowa coach, was livid over the call.
“The umpire dogged it,” he said in a Gazette article after the tournament. “I don’t know if the kid caught it or not, but the ump was right in front of second base when he called it an out. He just wasn’t hustling. He should have been out there where he could see it. I told him so, too.”
Another critical play occurred in the ninth inning. Brad Trickey, third baseman from Cedar Rapids Jefferson, and second baseman Mike Kielkopf both singled with one out. Pinch-hitter Jeff Elgin grounded a ball between first and second that looked like it might get through the infield. The ball was fielded and Elgin was safe at first.
ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT
But Trickey ran through Banks’ stop sign rounding third and was out on a close call at the plate.
“I held up Trickey at third but he went on his own,” Banks said after the game. “It was a good play though. He almost made it.”
Iowa stayed with Arizona State in large part because of a brilliant pitching performance by right-hander Mark Tschopp, a Cedar Rapids Jefferson product. Tschopp limited ASU to three hits (Iowa had eight) and two unearned runs while striking out 11. Errors by Tschopp and Kielkopf gave the Sun Devils two runs in the second, then Tschopp retired 17 of the last 18 batters he faced.
ASU’s lineup included future major leaguers Alan Bannister and Bump Wills.
“He pitched lot of great games during the year,” said Hurn, recently retired from KCRG. “In that situation and setting and what it meant, he went out and just dominated the No. 1 team in the country.”
The next day, Iowa was eliminated by Temple, 13-9, in a game the Hawkeyes led 6-2 in the fifth inning. Perhaps playing with an emotional hangover from the Arizona State game, Iowa allowed 13 hits, issued 10 walks and committed four errors.
“It was a sloppy game, very unfortunate,” Hurn said.
Arizona State ended up losing to Southern California in the championship game. USC featured Fred Lynn and Roy Smalley.
Well into the 1972 season, it seemed highly unlikely Iowa would reach the postseason. The Hawkeyes were floundering at 11-12 overall and 3-3 in the Big Ten. But Iowa ran off 10 straight conference wins to win the league title by two games over Michigan State, which didn’t play the Hawkeyes that year.
“We were 3-3 and weren’t playing very well at all,” Hurn said. “We had a team meeting and we said we needed to start playing the way we know we can. We started playing looser and the seniors really stepped up.”
ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT
Thank you for signing up for our e-newsletter!
You should start receiving the e-newsletters within a couple days.
The NCAA postseason was considerably different from today. In 1972, between two and six teams played in one of eight districts, the winners of which reached the CWS. Southern California, Arizona State and Oklahoma only had to win two games to advance. Today, teams must navigate a four-team regional, then win a best-of-three super regional to make the CWS.
Iowa was placed in a six-team district in Bowling Green, Ky. The Hawkeyes fell to Central Michigan in the opener, 7-2, before reeling off four straight wins. The last two victories were against Bowling Green in elimination games, 4-2 and 7-5.
Four Hawkeyes went on to play professional baseball. Sundberg was the most decorated, catching 16 major-league seasons. He was on the Kansas City Royals’ 1985 World Series championship club, won six Gold Gloves and appeared in three All-Star games.
Outfielder Fred Mims, a longtime Iowa athletics administrator, played three seasons in the Astros’ organization. He was with the Cedar Rapids Astros in 1973 and ’74. Tschopp pitched one season for Jamestown in the New York-Penn League before entering the service, going 8-3 with a 3.15 ERA. Trickey spent one season at Lethbridge in the Pioneer League, playing alongside Andre Dawson.
Several Hawkeyes remain connected to the Iowa program. Hurn has held baseball season tickets for several years. He attended Game 2 of the Iowa-Michigan series in Iowa City last weekend. Unbeknown to him, sitting behind Hurn was Ray Smith, starting shortstop on the 1972 team.
Iowa has made four other regional appearances since 1972 (1975, 1990, 2015 and 2017). But there remains only one team that reached the College World Series.
“It was pretty special,” Hurn said. “I think it means more looking back. Forty-six years and no one else has been back. At the time, you don’t really realize how special it was.”