By Pete Ruden
Iowa baseball is picking up right where it left off last year. After winning 39 games last season, the Hawkeyes started the 2018 season off with three wins on their way to an undefeated performance at the Diamond 9 Sunshine State Classic Series in Kissimmee, Florida.
Not only did Iowa win all three of its games, but it reigned supreme in entertaining fashion.
Despite trailing the entire game against Toledo on Feb. 16, the Hawkeyes came back with a walk-off win in what was a memorable Opening Day game to come out on top, 4-3.
Left fielder Tanner Wetrich and right fielder Robert Neustrom both committed errors, but Neustrom’s early mishap was more costly.
The error allowed 2 unearned runs to score. Nick Allgeyer, who missed all of last season recovering from Tommy John surgery, was on the bump and he pitched a solid game despite the two runs.
Three runs scored while Allgeyer was on the mound, but they were all unearned. In 5 innings, Allgeyer gave up 4 hits and struck out seven batters.
After falling down, 3-1, Neustrom redeemed himself by crushing his first home run of the season.
Just one inning later, center fielder Ben Norman found some green for a 2-run walk-off single to give the Hawkeyes their Opening Day win.
“It was exciting to get the win,” Iowa head coach Rick Heller said in a release.” “Allgeyer gave us a strong start, pitching five innings. We made a couple mistakes in the field that costed us. We were a little sloppy on the mound, but the guys battled and we just kept playing, which was good to see. The second half of the game was much better on offense. I liked how we kept fighting.”
As opposed to a lot of scoring at the end, Iowa’s game against Oakland had a lot of action early. 7 total runs were scored in the first inning, as the Hawkeyes held a 5-2 lead.
That advantage wouldn’t hold, though, as Oakland scored 3 more runs in the third and fourth frames, including an unearned run to take a 6-5 lead.
In the sixth inning, Neustrom came up clutch again, bringing Norman in on a sacrifice fly. Iowa then took the lead for good on Tyler Cropley’s 2-run homer for an 8-6 victory.
The Hawkeye pitching was shaky to start the day. Saturday starter Cole McDonald allowed 5 runs on 7 hits in just 3 innings pitched. However, the bullpen took care of it from there, only allowing 1 unearned run in the remaining six frames.
“We were a lot better today offensively,” Heller said in a release. “We had nine guys with hits and then five guys with RBIs. It was a solid day on offense. We were not so sharp on the mound. We struggled with command early and late. Nick Nelsen came in and pitched great to settle the game down for us.”
Iowa’s game against Old Dominion on Sunday was less dramatic. The Hawkeyes led all game, thanks to a 2-RBI double from Mitchell Boe in the second inning and a Matt Hoeg sacrifice fly in the third.
Hoeg, who had 2 hits on the day, continued his hot streak in the opening tournament and is now hitting .625 on the season.
Brady Schanuel picked up the win in his first regular season game as a Hawkeye, giving up 2 hits in 3.2 innings pitched, while striking out four.
Zach Daniels also had a good day out of the bullpen, picking up the save by not allowing a hit in 2 innings on the mound.
“I’m happy with our guys. It [was] day three of our trip and we came out with a lot of energy,” Heller said in a release. “Schanuel gave us a great start, worked out of a jam in the first inning. Defensively, we made a couple miscues, but for the most part, I thought our guys were dialed in.”