By JAMES ALLAN
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Connor McCaffery was in the clubhouse at Duane Banks Field moments after the University of Iowa’s 5-4 walk-off game one victory over Cal-State Northridge when college basketball’s NCAA Tournament brackets were being revealed.
McCaffery, the Hawkeyes’ basketball guard and baseball outfielder, had just pinch-hit in the game one victory when he was summoned to the dugout by Iowa head coach Rick Heller between the doubleheader.
By the time McCaffery returned to the clubhouse, well, he missed the basketball excitement.
“I wanted to be (at Carver-Hawkeye Arena with his men’s basketball teammates) if I could have been, but I wanted to be here with the baseball team,” said McCaffery. “I was there in the clubhouse watching, but coach called me out to tell me I was in the lineup.
“I actually missed our name coming up (against Cincinnati), but it’s all good. I came back, the guys were like, ‘Hey 10 seed. You’re going to Columbus.’ I am excited about that.”
McCaffery is also excited about how his first weekend on the baseball diamond played out. After wrapping up the Big Ten Men’s Basketball Tournament late Friday night, McCaffery was back in Iowa City on Saturday morning in time for the series opener against the Matadors.
He caught a ride with his mother, Margaret, because the basketball team’s bus wasn’t leaving Chicago until 9:30 a.m. He made it to Duane Banks Field at noon — an hour before first pitch — and his first order of business was catching the ceremonial first pitch from Big Ten Women’s Basketball Player of the Year Megan Gustafson.
McCaffery was called on as a pinch hitter for his first career at-bat in the bottom of the eighth with a runner on. He struck out swinging on a 1-2 pitch and Iowa fell in the series opener, 8-5.
“I was a little nervous, but I was excited to be here,” he said. “I wanted to contribute and show the team that I wanted to be here and show the coaches and everyone that it means a lot to me.”
After getting a second pinch-hit at-bat in game two — this time drawing a walk — McCaffery was in the lineup as the starting left fielder for the series finale.
“Coming into this weekend, I wasn’t sure if coach was going to start me because it is my first weekend and I need to adjust a little bit,” said McCaffery. “(Heller) trusts me and I appreciate that. I wanted to come out and do what I could.”
McCaffery had a strong first career start, finishing 3-for-4 with two doubles. He doubled to right center in the second, hit a double down the right field line in the sixth, and a singled to left field in his final at-bat in the eighth. Iowa won the game, 3-1, to take two of three games in the series.
“Connor had a great day with three big hits and he played extremely well,” said Heller. “Connor brings a guy that is not afraid to the team. There is a lot to be said when you’re not afraid.
“He comes in, gets his swings off, is confident, and barrels balls up.”
McCaffery dazzled in his debut despite seeing limited live at-bats during the spring. He has been getting work in, but it has mainly come on pitching machines inside the Jacobson Hitting Facility.
“I haven’t seen much live pitching since the fall,” said McCaffery. “I had an off day for basketball (a few weeks back) and they were doing live at-bats, so that was the one time it matched up. I saw maybe two or three live at-bats and I was uncomfortable then.
“I wasn’t trying to do too much (Sunday). I was trying to put good swings on the ball. I have been working with coach a lot and been there whenever I could, outside of basketball. It paid off.”
McCaffery’s attention turns back to the hardwood where the Hawkeyes will face seventh-seeded Cincinnati at 11:15 a.m. (CT) on March 22. Iowa will leave Wednesday and practice Thursday, before taking the court at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, on Friday.
“Hopefully our basketball team plays for a long time,” said Heller. “Once we get Connor back full-time, we’ll be excited to have him.”