By Adam Hensley
Deadlocked at 2, Iowa entered the bottom of the eighth inning looking for something, anything, to snag its first lead of the game.
Iowa’s bats answered the call, scoring 2 runs in the inning and notching a 4-3 win over Evansville, completing a perfect three-game sweep over the Aces.
“It was really great to see because we were doing that a lot in the first eight or nine games, and then we kind of hit the wall and lost it,” head coach Rick Heller said. “For us to have to fight like we did [Sunday] and do it against good arms and a team that played well, that’s only going to help with our confidence.”
Iowa put itself in prime position to take the lead in the bottom of the eighth inning.
Chris Whelan singled into a gap in right-center, and Kace Massner entered to pinch run. Robert Neustrom then took a walk.
Tyler Cropley knocked a ball deep into center field, scoring Massner and giving Iowa a 3-2 lead with noboy out.
Lorenzo Elion connected on a sacrifice bunt for the first out in the eighth, but he advanced Neustrom to third and Cropley to second.
Kyle Crowl added to Iowa’s lead with an RBI single, scoring Neustrom. That run was the Hawkeyes’ last, but it proved to be too much for the Aces to overcome.
“We put together some really good at-bats,” Crowl said. “We had a talk out of what we were going to see from their bullpen … getting the leadoff guy on was probably the best part. We just executed down the stretch.”
It wasn’t an easy closeout for Iowa, however, as the Hawkeyes had their hands full in the top of the ninth.
A leadoff triple put Evansville in stellar position to score, and it did, cutting Iowa’s 2-run lead down to a single run.
Freshman pitcher Grant Leonard entered, and at one point got the Banks Field crowd on its feet after striking out an Ace on a 3-2 count.
For Whelan, March 17 marked his season début after recovering from Tommy John surgery.
“It was really nice to get out there with the guys again and try to contribute in some fashion,” he said. “Spending a lot of the last month on the bench … I kind of have a newfound appreciate of the game.”
Whelan finished with 5 hits in his first weekend outing of the season.
Iowa and Evansville traded runs in the first two innings — featuring a Crowl home run — but after, fans at Banks Field found themselves in for a defensive battle.
“We [took] some big stride this weekend,” Crowl said. “The last few weekends haven’t been the best for us. We played really good baseball on [March 17], and we came out with a lot of energy [Sunday].”
Cole McDonald resumed his Sunday starting duties on the mound, and after allowing the first run, produced a solid outing. The junior from New Hampton pitched 5 innings, striking out 4 of the 23 batters facing him, and walking 3.
McDonald did allow 5 hits and Evansville’s second run of the game, coming in the top of the sixth.
Zach Daniels took over in the sixth inning, and he looked sharp from the moment he stepped on the mound; Daniels struck out 4 of the first six batters he faced.
Iowa now has a week jam-packed with action — the Hawkeyes host St. Louis on Tuesday and Loras on Wednesday, and then it begins Big Ten play on Friday, when Indiana travels to Banks Field for a three-game series.