By Pete Ruden
Iowa head coach Rick Heller has a pitching tactic for midweek baseball games. Instead of keeping one arm on the mound for an extended amount of time, Heller puts as many pitchers in action as he can.
It worked against Northern Illinois on Wednesday in Banks Field, as the Hawkeye pitching staff kept the Huskies hitless until the eighth inning and didn’t allow a run.
“It was an interesting game,” Heller said. “Seven pitchers and I thought they all had really good stuff — at times, lacked some command. We walked 5, still, tonight, but good stuff, induced a lot of weak contact.”
Although Northern Illinois did not record a hit until the eighth, no Iowa pitcher threw a perfect inning until the eighth. Free bases were a problem throughout, as the pitching staff combined for 5 walks and let Northern Illinois threaten a few times.
Still, Iowa kept the Huskies off the base paths for the most part, and the lack of runners kept them scoreless.
Left-handed pitcher Trenton Wallace started on the bump for the Hawkeyes. The freshman struck out 3 while walking two in his midweek start.
Ben Probst followed with 2 innings in which he recorded a strikeout and 2 walks against seven batters.
Jack Dreyer, who entered the game with a 7.71 ERA, lowered that number to 6.59 with a stellar performance. The freshman left-hander didn’t fan any batters, but let only one on base with a walk in his two innings of action.
Shane Ritter then entered for one inning and got the job done, putting a batter down on strikes and only walking one.
Iowa then faced some adversity in the eighth after Cam Baumann took the mound. A Mitchell Boe error, along with Northern Illinois’ first hit of the game, put runners on first and second with no outs.
But right-hander Nick Nelsen came in and extinguished the danger, while Zach Daniels shut the door on the Huskies for good, earning the save.
“Every pitcher who came in today either did a great job or put themselves in tough situations, but other guys in the bullpen picked them up,” Daniels said. “It was an all-around good day for the pitching staff.”
No pitcher tossed more than two innings for the Black and Gold, which helps keep each player warm. The brief action prepares them for the weekend and keeps them from going without pitching in live action for weeks.
With some of the pitchers who take the mound during the midweek games not receiving significant playing time in the weekend series, each inning becomes even more important for them.
“It’s huge,” right fielder Robert Neustrom said. “We obviously see a lot of guys go out there and throw, so it gives everyone an opportunity to get an inning or two in, and that can be big going into the weekend; it builds confidence.”
Now heading into a big series with No. 25 Minnesota, Iowa wants to carry the prime pitching over at a critical time.
“I think the pitching staff, the confidence grows each and every game,” Daniels said. “The momentum’s there. The last couple weekends we’ve been pretty good as well, so hopefully, we’ll grow on that this weekend.”