BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — The University of Iowa baseball team hit three home runs in its Big Ten Tournament opener, but it was a Matt Hoeg ninth-inning sacrifice fly that lifted the fifth-seeded Hawkeyes to a 9-8 victory over fourth-seeded Maryland on Friday afternoon at Bart Kaufman Field.
“I am proud of our guys, it was a hard fought game,” said UI head coach Rick Heller. “We had some guys step up big. Chris (Whelan) had a big game and Matt drove in a few runs. We had a lot of good at-bats up-and-down the lineup and found a way to get it done.”
With the game knotted at eight, junior Tyler Cropley started Iowa’s rally with a one-out walk before freshman Grant Judkins singled to put runners on the corners. Hoeg lifted a fly ball just deep enough to right field against Maryland reliever Ryan Selmer, allowing Cropley to score the go-ahead run.
“It was exciting to be able to drive him in,” said Hoeg. “It was a great at-bat by (Cropley) to get on base and Judkins’ hit was huge to get Tyler to third. I knew I had to get one out there to get him in.”
Senior Josh Martsching sat the Terrapins down in order in the ninth to send Iowa into a Friday morning winner’s bracket matchup against top-seeded Nebraska. The game time is still to be determined.
“Josh came in and did what he has all year,” said Heller. “Our bullpen stabilized things for us; it was a great game and a great way to start the tournament. I am proud of how our guys fought.”
Iowa’s bats jumped on Maryland starter and Big Ten Pitcher of the Year Brian Shaffer early, tagging him for six runs over the first three innings. Cropley started the scoring with a solo home run to right field in the second before Hoeg and Ben Norman had back-to-back doubles to make the score 2-0.
Sophomore Mitchell Boe laced the first pitch he saw into center field to make the score 3-0 and Mason McCoy’s sacrifice fly stretched the lead to 4-0.
After Maryland got one run back in the second, Iowa struck for two more runs in the third. Robert Neustrom and Cropley reached on two free bases before Hoeg singled in Iowa’s fifth run. Norman made the score 6-1 with a sacrifice fly to center field.
“We jumped out on top, strung some hits together, and hit the ball hard against a good pitcher,” said Heller.
The Terrapins quickly fought back, putting up three spots in the third and fourth innings against Iowa starter Nick Gallagher. With two runners on, Nick Dunn hit a three-run 420-plus foot bomb to right in the third to make the score 6-4 and Justin Morris connected on a two-run home run an inning later. Brandon Gum’s RBI single to centerfield gave the Terrapins their first lead, 7-6.
Two home runs — a Neustrom solo shot to lead off the fifth and a one-out Chris Whelan home run in the sixth — gave Iowa an 8-7 lead, but Maryland’s Marty Costes tied the game with a solo shot to lead off the Terrapins side of the seventh.
The Hawkeyes flirted with danger in the eighth when a single and a walk knocked reliever Kyle Shimp from the game. Martsching walked the bases loaded with one out, but he averted damage by striking out Costes swinging and getting Dunn to pop out to end the inning.
“For me, I want to be in that situation,” said Martsching, who went 1 2/3 innings of scoreless relief to earn his fourth win. “I’d rather have the ball in my hands than anyone else’s hands. You have to trust your defense, and it’s a little luck sometimes getting out of them.
“But we got out of it.”
Both starters struggled in the game; Shaffer was roughed up to the tune of eight runs (seven earned) on 10 hits over 6 1/3 innings, while Gallagher gave up eight runs on 14 hits in six innings. Ryan Hill suffered the loss, allowing one run on two hits over two innings.
Four Hawkeyes accounted for nine of the team’s 12 hits. Whelan finished 3-for-4 with a run and RBI, while Cropley (2-for-3, 3 runs), Judkins (2-for-5), and Hoeg (2-for-4, 2 RBIs) had two-hit games.
Iowa (35-19) has now won at least one game in the Big Ten Tournament in each of the last four seasons.