By JAMES ALLAN
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — The fifth-seeded University of Iowa baseball team made history Sunday afternoon at Bart Kaufman Field.
The Hawkeyes belted out 14 hits in a 13-4 victory over seventh-seeded Northwestern to claim their first Big Ten Tournament title in school history. Iowa (38-20) won four games in four days to earn the league’s automatic berth into the NCAA Regionals — the program’s second appearance in three seasons.
“It’s never easy,” said UI head coach Rick Heller. “Even with a lead like that, it’s never easy. Once it was over, I had a bunch of amazing feelings and emotions. I am happy for this team.”
With its pitching depth in question after Saturday’s doubleheader against Minnesota, the Hawkeyes got a performance for the ages from senior starting pitcher Drake Robison. The Illinois native allowed four hits and just one run over seven innings, fanning six.
“We won the championship because Drake gave us a tremendous start,” said Heller. “The offense did him a tremendous job of giving him a lead, but Drake was tremendous.”
After Robison worked around a pair of walks to strike out the side in the first, Iowa’s offense gave the right-hander some early breathing room, sending eight batters to the plate to jump out to a 5-0 lead.
With one out, senior Mason McCoy singled to left field and junior Jake Adams and sophomore Robert Neustrom followed with walks to load the bases. Iowa’s first two runs scored on a balk by Wildcats’ pitcher Matt Gannon and a Tyler Cropley sacrifice fly made it 2-0.
After freshman Grant Judkins drew a walk, junior Matt Hoeg sent a two-run double into the left center field gap making the score 4-0 and Ben Norman’s RBI single put an exclamation point on a five-run inning.
“Once we put up five (in the first), I basically said I’d throw a bunch of strikes and get as many ground balls as possible,” said Robison. “I wanted to go as long in this game as I could.”
Robison surrendered his only run in the third when Paciorek doubled down the left field line and scored on a one-out RBI ground out. The Hawkeyes got one run back in the fifth before blowing the game open with four in the seventh and three in the eighth.
Iowa loaded the bases in the fifth before Judkins knocked in the sixth run, reaching on a fielder’s choice. The Hawkeyes stretched their lead to 8-1 in the seventh on a two-run home run from Adams — his 26th of the season — and two more runs crossed the plate on a Northwestern fielding error.
The Hawkeyes’ bats stayed hot in the eighth when Adams belted his second home run of the game and 27th of the season with one out. The homer tied him for the NCAA lead and tied Indiana’s Mike Smith for the most in Big Ten Conference history.
Iowa kept its foot on the gas, using a Hoeg sacrifice fly and a Ben Norman RBI single to push its advantage to 13-1. Northwestern took advantage of three free bases to score three in its final at-bat, before Nick Nelsen got Alex Erro to ground out to Mitchell Boe to end the game.
“This is an unbelievable moment,” said Adams. “We knew at the beginning of the year what our goals were and that was to win a Big Ten Championship. We had some pitchers go down early in the season, and we knew we had to fight that much harder.”
Adams and McCoy paced Iowa’s offense with seven of the 14 hits. Adams was 4-for-4 with two home runs, three RBIS, and three runs, while McCoy was 3-for-5 with a double and three runs scored. Seven of Iowa’s nine starters had at least one hit.
Four Hawkeyes — Cropley, Chris Whelan, Josh Martsching, and Ryan Erickson — were named to the All-Tournament team. Whelan was named was voted as the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player — the first Hawkeye to receive the honor.
Iowa will learn its NCAA Tournament draw Monday on the NCAA Selection Show, which will be aired on ESPN2 at 11 a.m. (CT).