April 10, 2016
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By JAMES ALLAN
IOWA CITY, Iowa — The University of Iowa baseball team escaped a bases-loaded jam in the ninth inning to hold on for a 4-3, series-clinching victory over Illinois on Sunday afternoon at Duane Banks Field.
The Hawkeyes won 2-of-3 games in the weekend series to move to 14-15 overall and 5-4 in Big Ten action. It was Iowa’s sixth straight home Big Ten series win.
“This is big for us,” said senior Joel Booker. “The past two weekends we haven’t played well on Sundays so to finally come out with a Sunday victory shows we can win on Sundays.”
Iowa led 4-1 after five innings, but Illinois closed the gap to 4-3 with single runs in the seventh and eighth innings. The Illini plated two runs against UI reliever Ryan Erickson, the first was an RBI single from Michael Hurwitz in the seventh before Mark Skonieczny’s RBI groundout closed the gap to a single run an inning later.
Freshman Zach Daniels entered in relief in the eighth and left two runners stranded before Illinois rallied in its final at-bat. After a strikeout started the inning, Illinois loaded the bases via a walk and Hawkeye error before Daniels intentionally walked Dan Rowbottom to load the bases with one out.
The Robins, Iowa, native struck out Matthew James swinging for the second out before getting a glove on a comebacker off the bat of Doran Turchin, gathering himself, and flipping to first base to end the contest and earn his first career save.
“I tried to keep myself under control and not panic,” said Daniels. “I like to be put in those pressure situations. On that last play, it was a reaction play, and I put a glove on it.”
Illinois grabbed an early 1-0 lead in the first against sophomore starter Nick Gallagher. The Illini had three consecutive singles to start the game, including an RBI base hit from Jason Goldstein in the inning, before loading the bases with nobody out. Gallagher buckled down, getting two groundouts and a pop out to get out of the jam.
“It looked like it was going to spiral out of control, but Nick stepped up and that’s what I wanted to see out of him,” said UI head coach Rick Heller. “Was he going to get tough when things got tough? We found out right away in the first.”
Booker tied the game at one in the third on a sacrifice fly, plating junior Mason McCoy, who led off the inning with a single. Senior Eric Schenck-Joblinske also had a double to left centerfield in the inning.
Booker then gave the Hawkeyes the lead with a two-out blast in the fifth. After senior Tyler Peyton and McCoy reached via back-to-back singles to start the frame, Booker hit a towering, three-run shot to left field to give Iowa a 4-1 advantage. It was Booker’s team-leading fourth home run of the season.
“Coach (Marty) Sutherland said to sit slider and then react fastball,” said Booker. “I got a barrel on it, and it put us up 4-1. Instead of it being a tie game, it let everybody relax.”
Booker finished the game 1-for-4 and tied a career-high with four RBIs. McCoy was 2-for-3 with a run scored; he was the only Hawkeye to register a multi-hit game.
Gallagher (4-2) earned the victory in his first career Big Ten start, allowing one run on four hits over five innings. Iowa’s relievers — Erickson, Luke Vandermaten, and Daniels — allowed just one hit, but allowed two runs and issued six walks in the final four innings.
“It was kind of a collapse out of our bullpen and uncharacteristic of what we have done this year,” said Heller. “We put ourselves in a bad spot and then Zach Daniels comes in, we make an error, and he battled.
“He got a strikeout that was huge, and he is the only pitcher on our staff that would have stopped that ball (on the final out) and made that play. Tip your hat to Zach because he really picked us up.”
Bellair (0-2) suffered the loss, allowing four runs on five hits in 5 1/3 innings. He had two strikeouts without walking a batter.
Iowa returns to action Tuesday, hosting Air Force at 6:05 p.m. (CT).