May 21, 2015
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Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide. To receive daily news from the Iowa Hawkeyes, sign up HERE.
By JAMES ALLAN
MINNEAPOLIS — When senior Nick Day stepped into the batter’s box in the bottom of the ninth inning yesterday with one on and two out and the Hawkeyes trailing Ohio State, 2-1, University of Iowa head coach Rick Heller thought back to a previous game at Western Illinois.
Iowa’s second year manager recalled Day’s last home run — a two-run blast April 1 in Macomb, Illinois. It was a game where Day went 2-for-3 with two runs and two RBIs.
“I knew he was capable of running into one,” said Heller. “I was in the third base box chanting Western Illinois, Western Illinois, Western Illinois. I knew he could hit one, and he did. He got a good swing and hammered it.”
The Hawkeyes were down to their final out in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament against Buckeyes’ closer Trace Dempsey with a 9 a.m. elimination game matchup against Indiana looming. Dempsey was ahead 1-2 in the count before the Hawkeye third baseman drilled a slider into the left field stands at Target Field.
“I’m still in shock,” said Day. “I wasn’t swinging for the fences, not on that one. I took a couple of steps and realized what happened. It is kind of exciting. It ranks right up there.”
The victory was Iowa’s sixth walk-off win of the season and moved the Hawkeyes to 39-14, one win from their first 40-win campaign since 1985. More importantly, it keeps Iowa in the winner’s bracket where it will face No. 3 seed Michigan today at 5 p.m. (CT).
Day was enjoying a strong senior season through the first two months of the season, playing strong defense at the hot corner and hitting .325 with 15 runs and 11 RBIs. He did all this while dealing with a nagging back injury.
Following a 2-1 series-clinching win at Maryland on April 14 (where he scored the eventual game-winning run), Day was stricken to the dugout for a 10-game stretch. He joined the lineup full-time May 3 at Michigan, but was hitting .115 (3-for-26) since his return.
“I am happy for Nick because he’s toughing it out with his back,” said Heller. “It causes him a lot of pain, he’s playing with a lot of pain. He sat out 10 days hoping it would get better, but it didn’t.
“They said, you’re a senior, if you can play with it and tough it out, you can play. That’s what he has been doing.”
Down to the final out, Heller rolled the dice, going to junior Eric Schenck-Joblinske as a pinch-hitter. The move worked as Schenck-Joblinske kept the game alive, drawing a walk on a full-count pitch. That’s when Heller started thinking about Iowa’s last trip to Macomb.
“I knew if he barreled it up, he is strong enough,” said Heller. “He isn’t a guy we look to for home runs; he’s a middle of the field guy.
“(Hitting coach) Marty (Sutherland) was telling guys in the dugout to look for something you can drive. The walk was big. It was pretty tough to think that was going to happen.”
When the ball jumped off Day’s bat, Heller didn’t know if it was out of the park. The wind had been swirling, and Ohio State outfielder Ronnie Dawson was in a sprint toward the warning track. When he looked up, Heller realized it was going to carry.
“This is great, it gives us a big sigh of relief, coming off a Rutgers series where we kind of stubbed our toe (losing two of three games),” said Heller. “It was one of those games that would have been tough on us. All the guys can take a deep breath and come out and play our best (Thursday).”
Today’s game against the Wolverines will be broadcast live on BTN.