By JAMES ALLAN
HOUSTON, Texas — The University of Iowa baseball team had the tying and go-ahead run in scoring position in the top of the ninth, but Texas A&M fended off the Hawkeye rally to claim a 3-2 victory to advance to the NCAA Houston Regional final on Saturday night at Schroeder Park.
Trailing 3-2 heading into the top of the ninth, the bottom of Iowa’s lineup tried to spark a rally. Freshman Grant Judkins drew a leadoff walk before pinch-runner Justin Jenkins moved to second on a Matt Hoeg sacrifice bunt.
After Ben Norman flied out to center field, sophomore Mitchell Boe laced a come-backer that hit off Texas A&M’s reliever Cason Sherrod’s glove to put runners on the corners. Boe then stole second on a balk steal play to put two runners in scoring position.
The Aggies went to their bullpen, bringing in Kaylor Chafin to face sophomore Chris Whelan with a 2-0 count. The count went full before Chafin got Whelan to pop out to first base to complete the save and bring Texas A&M within one game of a Super Regional appearance.
“We get the hit, Mitch had the hit to drive in the tying run, but unfortunately it hit the pitcher,” said UI head coach Rick Heller. “We got a runner in scoring position and thought we had him to balk on the balk steal play and we had one of our best hitters up with the chance to tie the game and go ahead in the top of the ninth, but it just didn’t happen.”
Iowa applied pressure over the game’s four innings, collecting six hits against Texas A&M starter Corbin Martin. The Hawkeyes mustered only one run during the stretch on a Boe RBI single to right field, scoring Hoeg who started the two-out rally with a single.
Junior starter Nick Gallagher was strong on the mound early, allowing just two base runners over the first three innings, but Texas A&M got to the right-hander in the fourth. With one out, Hunter Coleman and Blake Kopetsky had back-to-back singles, bringing Cole Bedford to the plate with one out.
The Aggies were set to give up an out to sacrifice the runners into scoring position, but Bedford couldn’t get down back-to-back bunt attempts. Instead, on a 2-2 count, the catcher hit a three-run home run to left field to account for Texas A&M’s only runs of the game.
“I got (Bedford) to two strikes, but hung a slider; I left it up,” said Gallagher. “He did some damage. I wish I could have that pitch back.”
Iowa junior Jake Adams tried to give the Hawkeyes life in the fifth when he belted a two-out, solo home run to left field to cut the lead to 3-2 — a blast that gave him the Big Ten Conference single-season record and moved him into the NCAA lead with 28 home runs.
“He left a slider up over the middle of the plate,” said Adams. “I tried sparking our lineup, but we couldn’t get anything going after that.”
Martin settled in, retiring the Hawkeyes in order in the sixth and seventh innings before exiting following a Mason McCoy single in the eighth. Sherrod entered with McCoy on first and mowed through the middle of Iowa’s lineup, pumping 96 mile per hour heat to strikeout out the side.
Martin (7-3) earned the victory, allowing two runs on eight hits over seven innings. He finished with nine strikeouts to two walks. Gallagher (8-2) suffered the loss, allowing three runs on six hits over 5 1/3 innings. It was his first loss since March 10.
“Nick gave us a quality start, he had a rough fourth inning,” said Heller. “That was the only runs he gave up. Zach was outstanding out of the bullpen.”
Daniels allowed one hit over the final 2 2/3 innings and had three strikeouts to one walk.
The Hawkeyes out-hit Texas A&M, 9-7, but stranded eight base runners in the game. McCoy (2-for-4), Adams (2-for-4, run, RBI), and Boe (2-for-4) all had two-hit contests.
The loss sends Iowa into the loser’s side of the bracket where it will face top-seeded Houston in a rematch Sunday afternoon. The elimination game is set to begin at 3 p.m. (CT).
“We have to take it one game at a time, just like we’ve been doing this entire year,” said Gallagher. “Like in the Big Ten Tournament when we lost to Minnesota, we showed a lot coming back the next game, beating them in the night cap.
“The same thing is for tomorrow. We have to refocus, tomorrow is a new day and we have to come out with our best energy.”