By JAMES ALLAN
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Junior Tyler Cropley’s 13th-inning home run broke a five-all tie and lifted the fifth-seeded University of Iowa baseball team to a 7-5 victory over third-seeded Minnesota on Saturday night at Bart Kaufman Field to advance to the Big Ten Tournament title game for a second straight year.
It will be Iowa’s fourth Big Ten Tournament title game in program history; Iowa is 37-20 overall.
Following a stretch of six white-knuckle ride innings, Cropley led off the top of the 13th with a solo blast down the left field — his second of the game — against Minnesota reliever Jake Stevenson. The McCook Lake, South Dakota, native lifted a 1-1 pitch down the line for his ninth home run, giving the Hawkeyes a 6-5 lead.
“I knew a breaking ball was coming my way,” said Cropley, who hit two of Iowa’s four home runs in the game. “I was just trying to see it up and fortunately I didn’t miss it.”
Iowa kept the pressure on as junior Matt Hoeg and freshman Grant Judkins followed with back-to-back singles. After the lead runner was thrown out on a Justin Jenkins’ sacrifice bunt for the first out, Iowa pushed the envelope with a double steal, and it led to a run as Eli Wilson’s throw sailed into left field, allowing Hoeg to score.
Iowa took a 7-5 lead into the bottom of the 13th, where sophomore Shane Ritter retired the Gophers in order to notch his fifth save and close out the longest game in Big Ten Tournament history. The game lasted four hours and 57 minutes.
Minnesota jumped out to a 2-0 lead in its first at-bat and the Gophers led 4-1 through two innings, scoring all four runs against sophomore starter Cole McDonald. Cropley accounted for Iowa’s first run, belting a solo shot to left field in the second.
Sophomore Mitchell Boe started Iowa’s third with a double down the left field line before scoring on a Chris Whelan ground out. Junior Jake Adams made it a 4-3 game, belting a solo home run to center field for his first home run of the tournament and his 25th blast of the season.
Iowa took the lead in the fourth when Hoeg connected on a two-run homer to left field, knocking in Judkins, who reached on a one-out single. It was Hoeg’s fifth jack this season.
“Attitude was the story for us,” said UI head coach Rick Heller. “We came out with a lot of focus and energy. We kind of let down this morning, it was not our best effort and it was uncharacteristic of us. I know the captains brought everyone together after that game and a different team showed up tonight.”
Iowa’s pitching and defense kept Minnesota at bay in the middle innings. With one-on and two-outs in the fifth, Gopher designated hitter Eduardo Estrada lifted a deep fly ball to right field against reliever Kyle Shimp. Sophomore Robert Neustrom tracked it off the bat and made a leaping grab at the wall to rob Estrada of a two-run home run to end the inning.
Minnesota fought back to even the game at five an inning later on Luke Pettersen’s RBI single to center field.
Iowa’s offense scored five runs over the first four innings before Minnesota’s arms went to work, limiting the Hawkeyes to six base runners from the fifth through the 12th innings. Iowa was retired in order in three frames and ran itself out of a two-on, one-out inning in the 12th.
Minnesota used seven pitchers in the game with Tyler Hanson, Toby Anderson, Tim Shannon, and Brian Glowicki tossing 6 2/3 innings of scoreless relief, surrendering just one hit and fanning seven.
Iowa’s pitching was equally as impressive.
With the Gophers threatening in the sixth, Iowa summoned senior Josh Martsching in relief for his third appearance of the tournament with the bases loaded and one out. The Bloomfield, Iowa, native got out of the jam by getting pinch-hitter Alex Boxwell to ground into an inning-ending 4-6-3 double play.
“We had to go to Martsching way earlier than we wanted to,” said Heller. “The game was on the line and it was a roll of the dice for us. He was lights out down the stretch.”
Martsching (5-0) went on to pitch a career-best 5 2/3 innings, surrendering just two hits in the outing to notch his fifth victory of the season. Shimp logged three innings, allowing one run on three hits, and Daniels went 1 1/3 without allowing a run.
“We knew it would be a tough game with the pitching situation,” said Heller. “The pitching staff did a great job. Martsching was unbelievable; Shimp did a great job of settling the game down and allowing us to get back into it, and Shane came in and shut the door. I am so proud of him; he did a great job closing it out.”
The Hawkeyes finished with 10 hits in the game with three players posting multi-hit contests. Cropley was 2-for-6 with two home runs — his second career two-homer game — Hoeg was 2-for-4 with two runs and two RBIs, and Judkins finished 2-for-6 with a run scored.
“Hopefully you will see the real Hawkeye offense break out tomorrow,” said Heller. “Jake hit a bomb today and Robert hit the ball hard. Up-and-down the lineup, we had good at-bats. I hope this gives us some confidence to score some runs tomorrow.”
Iowa will face the winner of the Maryland-Northwestern game Sunday at approximately 12 p.m. (CT). That semifinal elimination game will start at 8 a.m. (CT); Iowa will face the winner for the Big Ten Tournament title 40 minutes after its completion.