Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide. To receive daily news from the Iowa Hawkeyes, sign up HERE.
By JAMES ALLAN
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Junior Tyler Cropley and the University of Iowa baseball team showed patience and poise in a Big Ten Tournament semifinal elimination game against third-seeded Minnesota on Saturday night at Bart Kaufman Field.
After being limited to four hits in a 9-3 semifinal loss to the Gophers on Saturday morning, the Hawkeyes showed fight in the winner-take-all nightcap. Iowa erased an early 4-1 deficit with two runs in the third and two more in the fourth inning to take a 5-4 lead, but shortly after, the hits dried up and adversity struck.
“After the first game today, coach emphasized sticking to the plan,” said Cropley.
Iowa came out strong in game two, getting home runs from Cropley, Jake Adams, and Matt Hoeg over the first four innings to take the early lead. The Hawkeyes surpassed its game one hit total, collecting five over the first four frames, but then the offense hit a road bump.
The team had just six base runners against four Minnesota hurlers over an eight-inning stretch from the fifth to the 12th inning. The game was stuck in a five-all deadlock.
Cropley stepped to the plate with the game tied in the top of the 13th and yanked a 1-1 pitch down the left field line. It had the distance, but…
“I didn’t know if the ball would stay fair or not,” said Cropley. “I was just praying.”
“The air was really heavy after the wind calmed down, compared to what it was earlier in the week,” said UI head coach Rick Heller. “I was just hoping it got out and was hoping it was fair.”
The divine intervention worked; the ball sailed over Jordan Smith’s head and into the Minnesota bullpen to give the Hawkeyes a 6-5 lead. Iowa added an insurance run to push the advantage to 7-5 before sophomore Shane Ritter closed the door to send Iowa to its second straight Big Ten Tournament championship game.
“The fight has been there all year for us,” said senior reliever Josh Martsching, who logged a career-high 5 2/3 innings of two-hit relief — the best outing of his Iowa career. “We are back to the championship game; now we just have to win it this year. I’m happy where we’re at.”
Iowa made a magical run as the No. 8 seed during the 2016 Big Ten Tournament, rolling to the title game with victories over top-seeded Minnesota, Ohio State, and Maryland. The Buckeyes ended the fairy tale run in the title game, using a late-inning rally to claim an 8-7 win and end Iowa’s season.
“We used that as motivation all year, especially in the weight room,” said Martsching. “We worked way too hard in the fall and spring to have an early exit. It’s great we’re going back.”
Martsching put the Hawkeyes on his back to get them there. He entered with the bases loaded and one out in the sixth and induced an inning-ending double play to get out of the frame without damage. He put it on cruise control from there.
“I didn’t want this to be my last time as a Hawkeye,” said Martsching. “I kept going as long as I could.”
The Hawkeyes are back in the title game, where they will face the winner of the second semifinal between fourth-seeded Maryland and seventh-seeded Northwestern. Iowa has never won a Big Ten Tournament crown.
Another poised performance would give Iowa its second NCAA Regional appearance in three seasons.