IOWA CITY, Iowa — Sophomore Izaya Fullard hit two home runs to drive in three runs to lead the University of Iowa to a 6-3 series-opening victory over No. 18 UC Irvine on Friday night at Duane Banks Field.
The Hawkeyes never trailed to earn their eighth win over a top-30 opponent to improve to 28-16 on the year and 17-4 at home.
“We love competing,” said Fullard who went 3-for-3 with three RBIs and three runs scored. “We feel we’re one of the top teams in the country. When teams like that come here, we know we’re going to defend our home field.”
UC Irvine pitcher Andre Pallante, who entered the game with a 2.62 ERA in 11 starts, didn’t retire Fullard once tonight in a game that was Iowa’s from the get-go.
Senior Chris Whelan led off the game with a double and scored on a RBI ground out from redshirt freshman Connor McCaffery. A 1-0 lead after one blossomed to a 2-0 in the third on Fullard’s first home run — a solo blast — and that was all senior starting pitcher Cole McDonald needed.
McDonald retired the first eight Anteaters he faced and pitched an effective seven innings. McDonald used a 6-3 double play from shortstop Tanner Wetrich to escape a bases-loaded jam in the fourth.
In his final inning of work, McDonald allowed two runs (one earned) to score. Still, the New Hampton, Iowa, native recorded his fifth straight quality start with five strikeouts to earn his fifth win of the season.
“This whole month of April he has been outstanding and he was outstanding again tonight,” head coach Rick Heller said.
In the fifth inning, Fullard hit his second home run to nearly the same spot, just inside the left field foul pole, but this time it cleared the wall with ease.
“We knew what he was going to bring to the table,” Fullard said of UC Irvine’s starter. “I was trying to stick to my approach. I was seeing it well. I knew there was really nothing he could beat me with.”
With a 4-2 through seven innings, Heller went to the bullpen with junior Trace Hoffman for his team-leading 24th appearance of the season. Hoffman pitched a 1-2-3 eighth inning before allowing a run in the ninth to earn his second save of the season.
QUOTING HEAD COACH RICK HELLER
“It was a good baseball game with two good pitchers going at it. Cole (McDonald) was good for us tonight and Trace (Hoffman) was good out of the bullpen.
“I was just waiting for Izaya (Fullard) to get hot. He has been off the barrel a little. He picked us up big time. Izaya’s always been a good hitter. We need him to get hot down the stretch, especially with guys going down here and there. We need somebody to step up and it was good to see him do that.”
- Fullard is the first Hawkeye of the season to hit two home runs in a game and first since last season when Robert Neustrom hit two against Oklahoma State.
- Fullard’s five home runs are now tied for the second-most behind Ben Norman’s six.
- McDonald’s ERA is at a season-best 3.42, having allowed two or fewer runs in five straight games.
Saturday’s game two is set for a 2:05 p.m. (CT) first pitch. Sophomore left-hander Cam Baumann (3-2, 4.96 ERA) will start for the Hawkeyes.
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