IOWA CITY, Iowa – The University of Iowa baseball team split a Saturday doubleheader against Penn State to win the series at Duane Banks Field.
Iowa won game one 5-3 behind strong pitching from Duncan Davitt and nearly came from behind to win game two, before falling 5-4 in the series finale.
“It was great to get the series win against Penn State,” head coach Rick Heller said. “They came in hot and you can see why. They ran as good as arms as we’ve seen – 1-2-3 starters and quality bullpen guys.”
The Hawkeyes wrap up the weekend with a 21-14 overall record. Penn State sits at 13-20.
Game 1 | Iowa 5, Penn State 3
Penn State loaded the bases in the first inning and recorded five hits in the first three innings, but Iowa starter Duncan Davitt avoided any damage, allowing only one run in the fifth inning.
His five-strikeout effort improved his record to 4-1 on the season. For the second straight game, an Iowa starting pitcher did not allow an extra-base hit.
“I was trying to throw strikes and get ahead of hitters,” Davitt said. “I got my slider back closer to the middle of the game and was able to get ahead with it. I started hitting them with more off-speed and kept them off balance.”
Hawkeye highlights from today’s first game! pic.twitter.com/ivuPM0VVyD
— Iowa Baseball (@UIBaseball) May 8, 2021
Iowa scored three runs in the bottom of the second after redshirt junior Trenton Wallace and redshirt senior Matthew Sosa led off the inning with back-to-back walks and redshirt junior Dylan Nedved loaded the bases after Penn State’s first baseman couldn’t field his sacrifice bunt.
With the bases full, redshirt sophomore Brendan Sher and redshirt senior Ben Norman delivered two straight singles to give the Hawkeyes a 2-0 lead. Iowa scored its third run of the inning on a double play.
Iowa tacked on runs in the fifth and sixth innings. Both runs were scored with two outs and Iowa led 5-1 through six innings.
Penn State scored two runs in the top of the eighth in Drew Irvine’s third inning of relief to make it a 5-3 game. Redshirt freshman Jacob Henderson relieved Irvine, allowing no runs in one inning of work.
Redshirt senior Grant Leonard needed only 10 pitches to strike out the side in the top of the ninth to earn his first save of the season and 21st of his career. Leonard is only one save away from tying the program’s all-time saves record.
Can we talk about @GrantLeonard15‘s ninth inning?!
— Iowa Baseball (@UIBaseball) May 8, 2021
Game 2 | Penn State 5, Iowa 4
Iowa’s offense was quieted by Penn State starting pitcher Kyle Virbitsky (3-3), who allowed only two baserunners — a Sher double in the third inning and hit batsmen in the fourth – in six innings of work.
“He was getting ahead of us every batter and we’d grind the at-bat out and get to a 3-2 count and he’d win,” Heller said. “We were 2-for-9 in 3-2 counts against him, but tip your hat. He was hitting his spots and his fastball was explosive and had a lot of life.”
The Hawkeyes, however, mounted a late comeback, scoring four runs in the final two innings, but it wasn’t enough to pull off the sweep.
Iowa starter Cam Baumann (4-4) matched Virbitsky’s eight strikeouts with seven of his own over a career-high 7 1/3 innings of work, but the Nittany Lions scratched across three runs (one earned) against the southpaw.
Penn State scored the game’s first run in the top of the second inning, capitalizing on a misplay by Norman in centerfield. In the top of the fifth, Penn State took a 2-0 lead, after scoring on a throwing error by Iowa left fielder Brayden Frazier.
With Penn State clinging to a 3-0 lead in the top of the eighth, the game was put into a lightning delay for 30 minutes. Following the stoppage, Penn State plated two more runs on a Johnny Paicentino double to make it a 5-0 game.
The Hawkeyes’ comeback bid started in the bottom of the eighth when Nedved scored on an infield single by Fullard. Nedved pitched a scoreless ninth to send the Hawkeyes to the bottom of the ninth trailing 5-1.
With runners on first and third and two outs in the bottom of the ninth, a balk was called to score Nedved from third and advance Martin to second, cutting Iowa’s deficit to 5-2. Following a Frazier single to left field, Sher walked on four pitches to load the bases.
Norman followed up Sher with a four-pitch walk of his own to bring home another Hawkeye run.
On the first pitch of the next at-bat, Fullard laced a single into left field to easily score Frazier from third, but Sher was thrown out at the plate to end the game.
“I knew our guys weren’t going to go away,” Heller said. “They fought hard and we had a chance. We had the hit that could have tied the game and get thrown out at the plate. It was a tough loss when you fight back like that.”
QUOTING HEAD COACH RICK HELLER
“You’d like to get three and we’re right there at the end and you have a chance, but it is good to win the series. It’s tough right now because you’re sitting here, and you have a chance to tie the game and their outfielder makes a great play with a wet ball and makes a perfect throw and throws us out at the plate.”
– Norman and Fullard each extended their on-base streaks. Norman’s sits at a career-high 23 games, followed by Fullard’s 18 games.
– The Hawkeyes have won six of their last seven series and 17 of their last 23 games heading into their final home series of the season.
Iowa continues the homestand with a three-game series against Illinois next weekend. The series opener is set for 6:05 p.m. (CT) on Friday at Duane Banks Field.