IOWA CITY, Iowa - The final sweep by Iowa’s baseball team wasn’t enough to catch the NCAA selection committee’s attention when the tournament’s field was announced Monday morning.
Iowa’s three-game series win over Michigan State over the weekend couldn’t cover what had happened the previous two weekends for the Hawkeyes. At 26-18 overall — all Big Ten games — Iowa’s tournament bubble popped.
The Hawkeyes outscored the Spartans 30-8 in the final three games, an impressive show on the road.
But Iowa’s tournament fate was sealed in a pair of series losses to Illinois at home and Northwestern on the road. At a time when the Hawkeyes need to keep making statements with victories, they lost at home to the Illini (22-22) and on the road to Northwestern (15-21).
They lost 2-of-3 to the Illini, having to rally for the win in the first game before being outscored 20-3 in the final two games. They won the first game of the series at Northwestern, then fell 5-4 and 8-6 in the last two games.
Those two series defeats sent them fading on so many of the tournament predictions, and no doubt sent them fading in the minds of the selection committee.
The Hawkeyes put themselves into position with a strong April after starting 4-8, but all of that momentum was gone by the middle of May.
Iowa coach Rick Heller made his argument for the Hawkeyes after Saturday’s win over the Spartans.
“We’re playing great baseball and I believe we’re an NCAA Regional team,” Heller said. “I believe we’re deserving to be in (the) regionals. Twenty-six wins in the Big Ten is a big deal, six wins against the top three teams and nine straight Friday victories — not many people have done that.
“We’ve had success in regionals every time we’ve been in. Our league has averaged 4.5 teams in the tournament the last five years and I don’t believe it should be any different this year.”
The Big Ten got three teams in — Nebraska with the conference’s automatic bid after winning the regular-season title, and Maryland and Michigan were at-large teams.
Left out were the Hawkeyes and Indiana, who tied for fourth place.
Iowa finished with an RPI of 76, a number hurt by the fact that Big Ten teams only played each other during a season altered by the COVID-19 pandemic.
There were no nonconference games — Iowa annually plays a strong schedule in February and early March — and no conference tournament, when a team can add to its resumé with a chance to win an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament. Lacking that, the Hawkeyes had limited chances to make their case, and they wasted those in the closing weeks.
What happened to the baseball team is similar to what happened to Iowa’s softball team, which also played a Big Ten-only schedule. Those Hawkeyes also went 26-18, but also didn’t make the NCAA field.
A near-miss to tournament play always ignites the what-ifs, and the Hawkeyes certainly can play that game.
But they will also lament the chances that got away.
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