FROM UNIVERSITY OF IOWA SPORTS INFORMATION
OMAHA, Neb. – An eighth-inning sacrifice fly by junior Dan Potempa and a four-hit pitching performance by three University of Iowa hurlers propelled the Hawkeyes to a 2-1 victory over Minnesota in a Thursday afternoon elimination game at the Big Ten Tournament at TD Ameritrade Park.
“It was a great college baseball game,” said UI head coach Rick Heller. “We were able to scrap two runs and that was about it, we didn’t do much offensively against (Ben) Meyer, but we were able to get enough.”
After trading runs in the fourth inning, pitching took center stage during the middle innings as neither team mustered a hit until the seventh inning, but there were opportunities.
Following a leadoff walk by Tony Skjefte in the sixth, Iowa pulled starter Blake Hickman in favor of sophomore Jared Mandel in relief. The southpaw hit the first batter he faced — Dan Olinger — to put two on with no outs, before buckling down to get a fly out and two strikeouts to end the inning.
After the two teams combined to strand six runners in the sixth and seventh innings, Iowa managed to manufacture the game’s winning run in the eighth. With one out, junior Jake Mangler was hit by a pitch by Minnesota starter Ben Meyer before junior Jake Yacinich singled under the glove of Olinger into right field to put runners at the corners.
Potempa followed by lifting a 2-0 pitch to right center field, driving in Mangler to give the Hawkeyes a 2-1 lead.
“I was happy to see us get a runner on base and then Yacinich come up and finally get a hit, and (Mangler) was able to go first-to-third, which was big,” said Heller. “Olinger plays the bunt well, probably the best in the league, and Dan is a good bunter.
“I knew Dan would get the bunt down (if I elected to try a safety squeeze), but I thought Olinger might throw Mangler out at the plate. I said, ‘You know what, (Dan’s) an all-conference third-team designated hitter, and we need a fly ball here, so let’s go.”
After Mandel walked Austin Athmann to lead off the ninth, sophomore closer Tyler Radtke came in to close the door. The Gophers sacrificed pinch runner Chris Schaaf into scoring position for the first out before Radtke struck out Bobby Juan looking and got Dan Mol to ground out to third base to end the game.
Mandel (2-1) earned his second career victory, allowing one hit in three innings in relief. He had two strikeouts against one walk. Radtke got the final three outs without surrendering a hit for his third save.
Hickman was strong in his fourth career start, allowing one run on three hits over five innings. He retired the first six batters he faced and finished with one strikeout against three walks in the game.
“Blake, in a big setting, came out and set the tone for us,” said Heller. “He continues to improve each time he goes out, and it was a big step for him. Jared came in in a tough spot and worked out of it. He showed a lot of toughness and grit and found a way to force contact.
“Jared got us to the ninth, and Tyler came in with a runner on first and shut the door, like a good closer should.”
Meyer (4-5) was the tough-luck loser in the game, allowing two runs (one earned) on four hits in a complete game. The right-hander had six strikeouts against one walk, while hitting two batters.
“Meyer was extremely tough on us tonight,” said Heller. “It was a well-pitched game, and he gave us trouble most of the afternoon. We were fortunate enough to scrap for a couple of runs.”
Senior Taylor Zeutenhorst had two of Iowa’s four hits in the contest, finishing 2-for-2 with an RBI.
After Hickman and Meyer allowed three hits combined over the first three innings, Minnesota broke through for the game’s first run in the fourth. Skjefte led off the inning with a single to left field before Olinger found the gap in right center for an RBI double, giving the Gophers a 1-0 lead.
Iowa got the run back in the bottom half of the inning, taking advantage of a Minnesota error. Yacinich reached on a high throw by Michael Handel to lead off the frame, moved to second on a sacrifice bunt and scored on a two-out RBI single by Zeutenhorst.
The win is Iowa’s 30th of the season — the most for the program since the 2010 season. The Hawkeyes will play a second-straight elimination game Friday, facing the loser of the Indiana/Michigan game at 7:30 p.m. (CT).
“Thirty wins is something we all had on our minds to start this season,” said Heller. “It looks a lot better than 29. To get to the conference tournament and win a game is a good step for our program. We’re not happy with one, but to come down here and lose two is not something we wanted to do. We felt like we were good enough to win some games here.
“Now with the way the pitchers threw today, we’re sitting in good shape going into game three.”