The Iowa players rose early for a Wednesday morning game against Michigan in the opening game of the Big Ten Tournament. Unfortunately for the Hawkeyes, their bats never woke up.
They managed just one hit in a 2-1, 10-inning loss at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha. They dropped into the losers’ bracket, where they will play the loser of the Ohio State-Purdue game at 9 a.m. Thursday.
If they hope to keep from going home early, the defending champions of this event need to get things going at the plate. One hit in 30 at-bats isn’t going to cut it.
“We were anemic offensively,” Iowa associate head coach Marty Sutherland said on the Hawkeye Sports Network. “You give credit to their pitching staff. We had a little bad luck sprinkled in there, but quite honestly our at-bats weren’t great. We just didn’t swing with a lot of confidence.”
The Hawkeyes entered conference tournament play possibly needing victories in order to reach the NCAA Tournament. Their No. 66 RPI ranking was seventh among league teams.
“You’re in elimination games from here on out. We haven’t been here often in our time at Iowa so it will be a little bit new along those lines but you can still make a run. We have the pitching to do it. We’re going to need to buck up a little offensively,” Sutherland said.
Iowa (33-19) won its first two games of last year’s Big Ten Tournament before falling to Minnesota. It came back to eliminate the Gophers.
In reaching the event’s championship game in ’16, the Hawkeyes won its first three games. It lost to Ohio State in the title contest.
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Sutherland said they’ll turn to Cole McDonald to start Thursday’s game. The junior right-hander is back in action after missing time with an elbow injury during the season.
“We’re probably not going to be able to run him out there for over 100 pitches. He’ll probably be in the 80-90 range,” Sutherland said.
Iowa jumped out to a decent start Wednesday, scoring an unearned run for a 1-0 lead in the top of the second inning. The rally included the team’s lone hit, a bloop single from Lorenzo Elion, and a comeback grounder from Robert Neustrom that knocked Michigan starting pitcher Tommy Henry out of the game.
Michigan coach Erik Bakich turned to Alec Rennard. The right-hander yielded one hit and one walk while striking out four in 5 2/3 innings. Jeff Criswell and William Tribucher pitched the final two frames to seal the victory. The Wolverine hurlers retired the final 20 Iowa batters.
“I thought we were really tentative in some situations where we took some positive counts we had and we were chasing a bad pitch or just flat out taking it. Looking up at the replays on the screen, we had plenty of pitches to hit,” Sutherland said.
Jesse Franklin put Michigan on the board with a homer in the fourth inning for the only run off Iowa starter Nick Allgeyer (7 innings, 4 hits, 3 walks, 9 Ks). Zach Daniels came on for the Hawkeyes in the eighth.
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Daniels allowed just one hit with two strikeouts in his first two innings of work before things unraveled in the 10th. After retiring the first batter, he walked the next two hitters before being replaced by Nick Nelson, who allowed a single that loaded the bases.
Frazier then drove a ball to right field. It was caught by Neustrom but plenty deep enough to score Christian Bullock with the winning run on the sacrifice fly.
“It’s very disappointing. Any time you lose the first game in the a tournament, you have an uphill fight. But you just have try to keep surviving and see what happens,” Sutherland said.
“For me, it’s just about finding ourselves offensively and just swinging with some confidence. Seeing a lot of beat dogs down there. This park, sometimes it can do it to you with the wind blowing in.”