Hawkeyes Drop Important Series to Michigan State

May 12, 2019

Written by Rob Howe

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IOWA CITY, Iowa – The message was straightforward. Iowa coach Rick Heller wanted his team looking ahead, not back. The Hawkeyes had no choice.

Reflecting on this weekend’s missed opportunity would only hurt more. They can’t do anything about stumbling in their push towards the postseason.

Iowa looked poised to win its seventh series in a row, leading 4-1 after six innings Sunday. The Hawkeyes wilted in the top of the seventh, however, yielding five runs in what would be a 7-5 loss to Michigan State.

After taking Friday night’s opener here at Banks Field, they dropped the final two games of the series. Sunday’s setback stung a little more with it being Senior Day.

Iowa (30-19 overall, 12-9 Big Ten) really needed a winning weekend against a Spartan outfit that came into town with only 17 wins overall and five in the league. The visitors entered the weekend with the No. 179 RPI, according to the NCAA.com rankings.

The Hawkeyes were striving to clinch a NCAA Tournament berth before the Big Ten Tournament. Things were trending up until this weekend’s snag.

“It hurts, for sure,” Iowa coach Rick Heller said. “But if we can go out and get hot here, four more to play, hopefully play well, and then play well in the conference tournament if we can get in, we can still do some damage and do some things.

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“But definitely a tough day today.”

Heller was pleased with his team’s effort. It just didn’t make as many key plays as did Michigan State.

A two-out single by senior Chris Whelan in the third and an unearned run in the fourth staked the Hawkeyes to a 2-0 lead. An RBI-base hit by Izaya Fullard and an Austin Martin sacrifice fly in the fifth pushed the advantage to 4-1, where it remained until the top of the seventh.

Heller pulled starting pitcher Grant Judkins (6 inn., 7 Ks, 1 BB, 1 ER, 85 pitches) in favor of Trace Hoffman, who was making his team-high 27th appearance. A pretty reliable middle man this season, the junior from Cascade didn’t have his best stuff on this day.

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Hoffman (5-2) retired the first batter before allowing infield single and a walk. He induced a fly ball for the second out, and it looked like he might wiggle out of the jam.

Then, it fell apart.

Michigan State leadoff hitter Bryce Kelley delivered an RBI single before Hoffman beaned Dan Chmielewski to load the bases. Shortstop Marty Bechina cleared them with a three-run double to right center off of an 0-1 hanging slider.

Grant Leonard relieved Hoffman and allowed an RBI single before ending the frame. MSU led 6-4.

“It’s kind of the same old, same old,” Hoffman said. “I just have to keep making pitches. They took advantage of some things. They executed well. Tip your cap to them.”

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The Spartans added an insurance run in the top of the ninth. Iowa came up in the bottom of the frame trailing 7-4.

The Hawkeyes mounted a rally, adding an unearned run, senior Mitchell Boe scoring following a one-out double. However, MSU closer Indigo Diaz secured his seventh save of the season by inducing a game-ending flyout from Martin with runners on second and third.

Heller pointed out the lack of production from the middle of his lineup. The 4-6 hole batters went hitless in 11 trips to the plate.

The pressure ramps up for the Hawkeyes as they head out on the road for their final four games of the regular season. They play at Western Illinois on Tuesday before a Thursday-Saturday Big Ten series at Maryland. They may need to win out if they’re hoping to wrap up an NCAA bid before the league tournament.

“I would say that if they do anything like they’ve done it all year, we’ll be fine,” Heller said. “We talked about the fact that we can still do a lot of things that we want to do. We just have to clean some stuff up this week and just continue to get better.

“But I don’t think this group will go out and lay down or anything like that. They’ll come back and fight this week.”

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