By JAMES ALLAN
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Junior Jake Adams posted his third multi-home run game of the season to break the University of Iowa baseball team’s single-season home run record and lead the Hawkeyes to a series split against Illinois in a Friday doubleheader at Illinois Field.
The Hawkeyes dropped the first game, 12-8, before winning game two, 8-3. Iowa won its final four Big Ten series to finish the regular season with a 34-19 overall and 15-9 Big Ten record. The 15 Big Ten wins are the second-most in the last eight years.
“We wanted to go out on a winning note, playing for seeding, and finish as high as we could,” said UI head coach Rick Heller. “We gutted it out and found a way to get the offense going.”
After dropping game one, Adams wasted little time putting the Hawkeyes on top in the nightcap, belting a solo home run to left field in the top of the first inning to give Iowa a 1-0 lead. The blast was Adams’ 23rd of the season, breaking John Knapp’s school record, which had stood since 1986.
“After I hit that, I knew I made history,” said Adams. “Coach Heller congratulated me as I came through and my teammates all gave me hugs. It was a cool experience to be a part of.”
Illinois had an answer in the bottom of the first when Pat McInerney belted a two-run home run off Iowa starter Elijah Wood and the Illini tacked on another run on an RBI single by Casey Dodge to push the lead to 3-1.
From there, Wood (1-0) was stingy, putting up zeros up in next six innings to notch his first win as a Hawkeye. The right-hander allowed three runs on 10 hits over a career-long 7 1/3 innings and he had three strikeouts without issuing a walk.
“Elijah settled in and pitched great,” said Heller. “It was an outstanding performance.”
Iowa’s offense tied the game in the second, loading the bases on a Matt Hoeg double and back-to-back walks from Ben Norman and Tyler Cropley. Mitchell Boe drew a walk to force in the second run before Chris Whelan was plunked to tie the game at three.
The Hawkeyes took the lead for good with a three-run sixth before putting up single runs in the seventh and eighth.
Iowa loaded the bases in the sixth when Grant Judkins and Boe had a pair of one-out singles and Whelan drew a walk. With one out, Adams hit a two-run single to right field and Robert Neustrom followed with an RBI single to right to stretch the lead to 6-3.
The Hawkeyes tacked on their seventh run when Tyler Cropley scored on a wild pitch before Adams capped off the scoring with a solo home run to left field to lead off the eighth. It was his 24th of the season, tying him for the NCAA lead.
“Jake was amazing,” said Heller. “The wind was howling in from left field, it was cold, and Jake hits two bombs into the teeth of the wind. I am happy for him breaking the record. He’s on a tear and he drove in a bunch of runs for us.”
Junior Nick Nelsen and Josh Martsching got the final five outs to send the Hawkeyes to their 34th victory of the season. Martsching struck out two of the three batters he faced.
Adams finished 3-for-6 with two home runs, four RBIs, and two runs. Neustrom (2-for-4), Judkins (2-for-5), and Boe (2-for-4) also had two-hit games.
In game one, Iowa led 7-2 through 5 1/2 innings before Illinois put up a crooked number to rally late. The Illini scored two runs in the sixth against reliever Sammy Lizarraga before the flood gates opened the seventh.
“We jumped out to a big lead and blew a five-run lead,” said Heller. “It was a tough way to lose. (Ryan) Erickson gave us a decent start, but our bullpen struggled, unfortunately. We couldn’t get them out in the seventh.”
Illinois sent 12 batters to the plate and scored eight runs against Iowa relievers Kyle Shimp and Zach Daniels to take a 12-7 lead. The Illini had six hits in the inning, including a two-run double from Ben Troike that gave Illinois the lead.
The Hawkeyes were cruising early, putting two runs up in the second, third, and fifth innings, and a single run in the sixth.
Boe and senior Mason McCoy had RBI singles in the second, Neustrom led off the third with a solo home run — his third home run in two games — and Judkins had an RBI single to score Hoeg, who reached on a double to left field.
Norman doubled down the left field line to start the fifth before trading places with Hoeg, who laced an RBI double off the wall in right field. Judkins pushed the lead to 6-2 with an RBI single to right center.
Iowa stretched its lead to 7-2 in the sixth when McCoy singled and moved into scoring position on a wild pitch. With one out, Cropley singled to left field, giving the Hawkeyes a five-run advantage.
Senior Ryan Erickson allowed two runs on six hits over five innings, but wasn’t involved in decision. Shimp (5-1) suffered the loss, allowing four runs (two earned) on two hits in 1/3 of an inning.
Four Hawkeyes posted multi-hit games with Hoeg leading the way with a career-high four-hit day. He was 4-for-5 with two doubles, four runs and an RBI.
Iowa returns to action Wednesday in Bloomington, Indiana, at the 2017 Big Ten Tournament. The seedings will be finalized Sunday.
“It was a great way to end the regular season,” said Heller. “Now we have an extra day to rest to get ready for the conference tournament.”