By JAMES ALLAN
HOUSTON, Texas — The fourth-seeded University of Iowa baseball team pounded out 13 hits to take down top-seeded and 15th-ranked Houston, 6-3, on Friday night in its opening game of the NCAA Houston Regional at Schroeder Park.
“I am proud of our guys, it was a hard fought game,” said UI head coach Rick Heller. “We did not give in. It wasn’t the cleanest game for us on the mound or defensively, but we were able to overcome it.”
The win moves Iowa to 39-20 overall and sets up a Saturday night winner’s bracket matchup against third-seeded Texas A&M. The Aggies downed second-seeded Baylor, 8-5, in the first game Friday afternoon.
The Hawkeyes used a heady defensive play in the bottom of the sixth to wipe the game-tying run off the scoreboard before adding some insurance late to post the third NCAA Tournament win in three seasons.
Clinging to a 4-3 lead in the sixth, Houston’s Joe Davis drew a leadoff walk against Iowa starter Ryan Erickson to chase the southpaw from the game. After sacrificing the runner to second, reliever Kyle Shimp got Jared Triolo to fly out to left field for the second out before Lael Lockhart doubled into the left centerfield gap to tie the game at four.
Iowa first baseman Jake Adams called for the ball on an appeal and Lockhart was called out after failing to touch first base. The game-tying run was wiped off the scoreboard.
“It’s part of our routine,” said Heller. “On the first days of relays in the fall, the first basemen’s job is to make sure the runner touches first before he trails and heads to second base. It was a savvy play by Jake.
“We play with a three-man (umpiring) crew in the Big Ten and sometimes those plays get missed when the runner misses the bag. In a four-man crew, the umpire’s only job is to watch and see. He saw the same thing Jake did.”
Houston threatened again in the bottom of the seventh, putting two runners on on two Shimp free bases, but senior Josh Martsching got out of the inning unscathed, punching out American Athletic Conference Player of the Year Jake Scheiner before getting Corey Julks to ground out to Mason McCoy to end the frame.
Iowa gave Martsching some breathing room in the eighth when freshman Grant Judkins walked to start the inning and freshman Ben Norman drew a one-out walk. After moving up on a wild pitch, sophomore Mitchell Boe’s RBI single pushed the lead to 5-3 and sophomore Chris Whelan followed with an RBI base knock to left field, stretching the Iowa advantage to 6-3.
Martsching pitched around a one-out single in the eighth and a two-out double in the ninth before freshman Justin Jenkins tracked down a fly ball off the bat of Scheiner in center field to end the game. Martsching allowed two hits and fanned four in 2 2/3 innings to collect his eighth save of the season.
“There is a difference between losing and getting beat, and we just got beat,” said Houston head coach Todd Whitting. “Iowa was as advertised. They were a good team. We never had a chance all night to get into a rhythm offensively or on the mound. You have to tip your hat to Iowa; they played well.”
Senior Ryan Erickson (4-2) earned the victory, allowing three runs (two earned) on four hits over five innings. He finished with one strikeout to four walks in the game. Shimp went 1 1/3 innings without allowing a hit, but he walked two batters.
“Ryan gave us a quality start,” said Heller. “He was working from behind the count for a lot of the day, but he found ways to make pitches when he needed to get out of innings. Kyle bridged it for us, and Josh was outstanding to close the game out.”
Iowa broke onto the scoreboard in the second when junior Tyler Cropley singled, stole second, and moved to third on a Judkins fly out. A swinging bunt single gave Norman the game’s first RBI.
The Hawkeyes pushed their lead to 2-0 in the fourth with a two-out rally. Norman started things off with a double to left center field before trading places with Boe when he doubled down the right field line.
Houston landed its first punch in the fourth with back-to-back one-out hits against Erickson. Cooper Coldiron’s safety squeeze drove in the Cougars’ first run before Davis scored the second on a wild pitch. Iowa got out of the inning when Erickson picked off Triolo, throwing him out at the plate.
With the game tied at two, Iowa regained the momentum in the fifth and it knocked Houston starter Trey Cumbie from the game. McCoy doubled and Adams was hit by a pitch to start the inning before Neustrom laced an RBI single up the middle to give Iowa a 3-2 lead. Judkins drove in Iowa’s fourth run with an RBI single to right field.
Houston took advantage of a Hawkeye fielding error in the fifth to cut the lead in half. Scheiner drove in the run, lifting a sacrifice fly to center field, cutting the deficit to 4-3.
Iowa tagged Cumbie — the AAC Pitcher of the Year — for four runs (three earned) on 10 hits over 5 1/3 innings. He had two strikeouts to two walks, throwing 101 pitches.
Seven of Iowa’s nine starters had at least one hit in the game with five players posting multi-hit contests. Norman finished 3-for-3 with two runs and an RBI, while Whelan (2-for-5, RBI), Neustrom (2-for-5, RBI), Cropley (2-for-4, run), and Boe (2-for-3, two RBIs) had two-hit games.
“We had a good plan for the left-hander and we executed it from start-to-finish while he was in there,” said Heller. “We had good at-bats up-and-down the order all night long. The bottom of the order did a great job of picking us up.
“The guys played hard in a tough environment, and we didn’t waver. We have a good, tough group of guys.”
Iowa returns to action Saturday at 7:04 p.m. (CT), sending junior right-hander Nick Gallagher to the mound against Texas A&M.
“It makes you feel good having Gallagher, hopefully the extra day of rest helps him out,” said Heller. “He needs to go out and compete. Hopefully he has his good stuff and