May 19, 2016
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By JAMES ALLAN
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The University of Iowa baseball team scored three unearned runs in the second inning and held off Penn State for a 3-2 victory Thursday night in the opening game of a crucial Big Ten Conference series at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.
The victory extends the Hawkeyes’ winning streak to a season-long four games, moves the team to a season-best two games over .500 (26-24), and evens the team’s league record at 11-11. Iowa needs one win to clinch a berth in the 2016 Big Ten Tournament next week in Omaha, Nebraska.
“That was a big one,” said UI head coach Rick Heller. “It was a great baseball game. Penn State played hard; we played hard; it was a battle. We were fortunate enough to win it.”
Sophomore Nick Gallaher (7-3) earned his seventh victory, tossing 3 2/3 innings in relief of starter C.J. Eldred. Gallagher gave up one unearned run on three hits over 3 2/3 innings and had four strikeouts without a walk. Eldred pitched the first four innings, allowing one run on five hits.
Freshman Zach Daniels got the final four outs to notch his fifth save of the season.
“Pitching was the story,” said Heller. “We got a tremendous start from C.J., and Gallagher came in after missing last week with a groin injury, he tweaked it and had to go from the stretch the rest of the way, but found a way to gut it out. Zach was awesome late to close it down.”
The Hawkeyes made a Penn State fielding error sting in the second inning with a three-run frame. Junior Mason McCoy reached via a one-out error by shortstop Conlin Hughes before moving to second on a passed ball.
Freshman Robert Neustrom followed with a single and John Barrett drew a walk on an eight pitch at-bat to load the bases before senior Eric Schenck-Joblinske gave Iowa a lead with an RBI base on ball. After a Daniels fielder’s choice groundout drove in the second run, senior Tyler Peyton pushed the Hawkeye lead to 3-0 with an RBI single through the left side.
“We got on the board and it was big,” said Heller. “We had a couple of opportunities later, but we had to do it with the three runs we scored.”
Penn State broke on to the scoreboard in the fourth on a two-hit inning and small ball. After back-to-back singles started the frame, the Nittany Lions advanced runners up a base with a sacrifice bunt before James Coates made the score 3-1 with an RBI groundout.
After a leadoff single in the fifth, Gallagher entered in relief and retired the first four and nine of the first 10 batters he faced. Penn State’s Riotto singled to start the eighth and Jim Haley scored on an RBI single from Tyler Kendall to centerfield that was made possible by an Iowa throwing error on a potential double play ball.
Penn State out-hit Iowa, 8-6, in the game, and both teams stranded six base runners. Schenck-Joblinske had two of the Hawkeyes’ six hits, finishing 2-for-3 with a double and RBI. It was his fifth straight game with a hit and his third two-hit contest during the stretch.
Nick Hedge (5-3) suffered the loss, allowing three unearned runs on six hits over 6 2/3 innings. He had five strikeouts to two walks.
The series resumes and concludes Friday with a doubleheader beginning at 1 p.m. (CT). Peyton will take the ball in the first game for the Hawkeyes.
“The bullpen is set up well for us, but Penn State can swing the bat,” said Heller. “They’re playing hard and they want to go to Omaha just as bad as we do. It’s going to be another battle tomorrow.”