IOWA CITY — The first celebration was just practice. The celebration two pitches later turned out to be the legit one.
The one that counted.
Tyler Cropley’s two-out, two-run home run allowed Iowa to walk off Michigan, 7-5, Sunday afternoon in the finale of this three-game series at Duane Banks Field. The no-doubter shot to left field came after Cropley and his teammates jubed it up in the outfield, believing they had won when the Wolverines misplayed a popup a few feet in front of home plate just inside the first-base line.
But Michigan catcher Harrison Salter completely whiffed on the attempted catch, the ball bouncing twice on the field turf and then into foul territory. The home plate umpire originally signaled game over, then correctly changed his call.
It was a foul ball.
“It was more like everyone thought he touched it, so that’s why they came out (of the dugout),” Cropley said. “I didn’t know what was going on. I thought it was fair, I thought the game was over.”
“It didn’t touch anybody. I saw that myself,” said Iowa Coach Rick Heller. “But he signaled (fair ball), and then he tried to fix it. No use hollering about that. It was clear he didn’t touch it.”
So both teams got a brief reprieve in a sense. Hard-throwing Michigan reliever Jeff Criswell threw a 2-2 fastball at 93 miles per hour that Cropley fouled straight back, then came back with a breaking ball the senior catcher (and Iowa’s leading hitter) crushed for his sixth homer of the season.
Cropley and Ben Norman were mobbed at home plate. Norman had reached second with two outs when Wolverines third baseman Blake Nelson buried a routine throw low, past first and into the Iowa dugout.
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“After that first one, Coach called me over and said ‘Get your heart rate down. You’re going to do it again,’” Cropley said. “I guess I did it again.”
“What happened to him, with the celebration and then having to come back to the batter’s box with two strikes and facing a guy like that,” Heller said. “To get your heart rate back down and do what what he did is pretty phenomenal. Shows you a lot about the toughness and makeup of Tyler. As well as his physical ability.”
Iowa (26-14, 9-7 and in seventh place in the Big Ten Conference) rallied from a 5-0 hole after an inning and a half to win the series against Michigan (25-13, 12-2), which had come into the weekend on a 20-game win streak. Austin Guzzo’s two-run home run in the third brought the Hawkeyes within 5-3, with a Chris Whelan solo shot eventually tying it in the bottom of the seventh.
Reliever Zach Daniels was another hero here for Iowa, as he threw four shutout innings to get the win. Daniels, the former Cedar Rapids Kennedy prep, threw over 60 pitches after throwing 45 for the save Friday night.
“That’s all I wanted to do. Come in and keep the game close,” he said. “Things weren’t going our way in the beginning, but we put some runs up there. I knew we’d fight back at some point. I’ve seen it many, many times with this team. As long as I could keep it close, I felt good about ourselves.”
Starting pitcher Cole McDonald was removed from the game in the fourth when he felt discomfort in his elbow after throwing a pitch. The former New Hampton prep had Tommy John elbow surgery in high school.
Iowa’s Big Ten schedule finally lightens up with series remaining against Northwestern and Penn State, the worst two teams in the league. It hosts a good Missouri team Tuesday night, Western Illinois on Wednesday and then a series against traditional power Oklahoma State next weekend.
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