By JAMES ALLAN
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Sophomore Robert Neustrom’s 446-foot, two-run home run over the batter’s eye in center field propelled the University of Iowa baseball team to an 11-10 walk-off victory over Ohio State on a Senior Day Sunday at Duane Banks Field.
The Hawkeyes trailed 9-2 through 6 1/2 innings before clawing their way back to tie the game in the eighth. The Buckeyes took a 10-9 lead in the top of the ninth before Iowa used the dramatic to win its third straight Big Ten series to improve to 31-18 overall and 13-8 in Big Ten play.
The victory clinches a Big Ten Tournament berth for a record fourth straight season.
Iowa used full-count leadoff single from junior Jake Adams to start the ninth, bringing Neustrom to the plate as the game-winning run. The Sioux City, Iowa, native sent the first pitch from Adam Niemeyer over the centerfield wall on to Hawkins Drive to give the Hawkeyes their third walk-off victory of the season.
“I was telling myself all day, I have been struggling at the plate that I wanted to something special when I got up that last at-bat,” said Neustrom. “I saw the first pitch and thought I was going to hack at it.
“It was a huge team win. We couldn’t have done that without Corbin (Woods) coming in hitting a three-run home run, (Tyler) Cropley getting that hit, Ben (Norman) getting that RBI, Jake (Adams) hitting another three-run bomb. Everything added up… it was my turn.”
Ohio State jumped on Iowa early, scoring two in the first and four in the second on a Dominic Canzone grand slam to take a 6-2 lead, forcing the Hawkeyes to go to the bullpen in the third. The Buckeyes pushed their lead to 9-2 through six innings, scoring single runs in the third, fourth, and sixth.
The Hawkeyes’ offense was lifeless, recording two hits in the second through sixth innings. Iowa loaded the bases with one out in the sixth, but couldn’t muster any runs.
Iowa showed life in the seventh when pinch-hitter Corbin Woods led off the frame, reaching via a hit by pitch and sophomore Chris Whelan followed with a single to left center. With one out, Adams hit his third home run of the weekend, connecting on a three-run shot into the batter’s eye in center field.
The home run was Adams’ 19th of the season — three off the Iowa school record — and it cut the deficit to 9-5. After sophomore reliever Zach Daniels kept the Buckeyes at bay in the eighth, Iowa’s offense went back to work.
Junior Tyler Cropley and freshman Grant Judkins started the eighth with singles before freshman Ben Norman sent an RBI single to left field to cut the deficit to 9-6. Senior Corbin Woods followed with a three-run shot to left field to tie the game. It was just Woods’ third hit of the season.
“That was the blow that brought us back,” said Heller. “You get feelings from time to time. I had a feeling that he was going to do something special — a home run, a double. I had a feeling he was going to get a hit.”
Ohio State took the lead in the ninth, loading the bases on a Conner Pohl double and back-to-back Daniels walks. The Buckeyes took the lead on Tre’ Gantt’s sacrifice fly to right center against reliever Josh Martsching, but he limited the damage, getting Canzone to ground out to end the inning.
Martsching (3-0) earned the win, tossing 2/3 innings in relief. Daniels went a career-long 4 2/3 innings, allowing two runs on five hits and fanning a career-high eight.
“Zach did an awesome job of keeping us around,” said Heller. “We were talking to the position players saying, ‘Don’t quit, don’t quit, keep fighting, it’s going to come back to us, and Zach is going to give us a chance to come back.’
“Martsching wasn’t even on the board (to pitch today); he went and wrote his name on the board. He came in and limited the damage; the play that might get forgot is Neustrom catching the ball (on the sacrifice fly in the ninth); he went a long ways and made a good catch. Josh limited the damage to give us a chance.”
Niemeyer (2-4) suffered the loss, allowing six runs on six hits in one inning of relief.
Iowa’s top three batters accounted for seven of the team’s 12 hits in the game. Whelan was 3-for-5 with two runs, McCoy was 2-for-5 with a run and RBI, and Adams was 2-for-4 with three RBIs and two runs.
The Hawkeyes host their final midweek game of the season Tuesday, hosting Omaha at 6:05 p.m. (CT). Iowa travels to Illinois from May 18-20 to close out the regular season.