IOWA CITY – Iowa pitcher Tyler Peyton had more than just the Nebraska hitters to overcome on Sunday. He also had to overcome his own body, or more specifically, the pain from a nagging left foot injury.
Peyton prevailed over both in spectacular fashion by nearly going the distance in the second game of a doubleheader. The junior from Grimes scattered eight hits and had nine strikeouts as Iowa completed a three-game series sweep over the Cornhuskers with a 5-1 victory before a capacity crowd of 2,506 at Banks Field.
Peyton was replaced on the mound with one out in the top of the ninth inning. Nick Hibbing then retired the last two hitters to secure the victory.
“Right now, I couldn’t feel any better,” Peyton said. “I really wanted to get a sweep against these guys, a great team in Nebraska. It was good to get three wins.
“That’s probably helping the pain right now because I’m not really in that much pain right now. It feels good.”
Iowa won the first game 3-2 on Jimmy Frankos’ run-scoring single to left field in the bottom of the 10th inning.
Peyton was removed from the first game in the fifth inning because of pain in his left foot. He is one of Iowa’s top hitters and starts at first base when not pitching for the 17th-ranked Hawkeyes, who improved to 30-11 overall and 13-2 in the Big Ten with Sunday’s sweep.
Peyton did not bat in the second game.
“I think a lot of the team and myself didn’t know what to expect from Tyler because he asked to be pulled in the first game because his foot was bothering him,” said Iowa coach Rick Heller. “He said if I have any chance of pitching I probably should come out. It’s not feeling good when I hit.
“So all of us were just wondering, was it going to be a situation where he had to come out in the first inning or the second inning. And then to see him basically pitch as well as he’s pitched the entire season was incredible. He was lights out today.”
Iowa has won at least 30 games in back-to-back seasons for the first time since the 1989 and 1990 seasons. The Hawkeyes finished 30-23 in Heller’s first season as head coach a year ago. Iowa also has won six consecutive Big Ten series for the first time in school history.
The fans showed their appreciation for the quick turnaround by packing the stands on Sunday. It was standing-room only throughout the first game.
The teams had to play a doubleheader on Sunday after Friday’s game was postponed because of the weather conditions. They also played one game on Saturday.
“It’s just awesome to look up there and see so many people that came out to support us,” Heller said. “I knew if we could win and show some life that the Hawk fans would come out. And they certainly have. It was a great day for us.”
Frankos said the fans made a huge difference throughout the three-game series, especially in the first game on Sunday when Iowa fell behind 2-0 early.
“We rode them,” Frankos said of the fans. “We were down early today and they were still in it. They stuck with us all the way to the end. They were loud and they were chanting. It was pretty cool to be a part of it.”
The scene on Sunday was a drastic change from previous seasons when Iowa played before much smaller crowds at Banks Field.
“From my freshman year to where we are now is just a 180-degree turnaround,” said Frankos, a junior catcher from Park Ridge, Ill. “I’ve never seen that many people fill those stands. And for us to come out and get a sweep in front of some of the greatest fans in the country is a pretty special weekend.”
Peyton did himself and his defenders a favor by not walking a single batter. He consistently got ahead of the hitters by pounding the strike zone with pitches at different speeds.
“That’s the key to the game, especially for us playing defense behind them,” Iowa second baseman Jake Mangler said of Peyton’s control. “It’s great for us. It keeps us in the game and gives us confidence with him out there getting outs for us.”
Peyton, who improved his record to 5-3, had all of pitches working on Sunday despite the pain in his foot.
“I felt like I had command of all my pitches today,” he said. “I felt that I was able to locate and able to get ahead. The key was to get ahead and I was able to throw strikes.”
Iowa also was the beneficiary of solid pitching in the first game as starter Calvin Mathews allowed just three hits before being replaced with one out in the top of the sixth inning.
Solon native Brandon Shulista came through big in relief, allowing just two hits over 3 1/3 innings.
“It was a great effort by our guys and they played hard,” Heller said. “The pitchers did a great job. Calvin gave us a quality start and Brandon Shulista was really key out of the bullpen. He had arguably his best outing of the year.
“We just fought hard at-bat wise. We squandered an opportunity here and there, but Frankos had the big at-bat and the nice hit to win the game.”
Iowa combined for 26 hits in Sunday’s doubleheader, recording 13 in each game. Senior centerfielder Eric Toole led the way with six hits overall, with three in each game.
Junior outfielder Joel Booker also smacked a triple to lead off the bottom of the eighth inning in the first game. He scored to tie the game at 2-2 on a sacrifice fly to left field by Toole.
Booker entered Sunday’s doubleheader in a hitting slump.
“It was really good to see him have a big hit and get him going,” Heller said of Booker, a native of Columbus, N.C. “Because if we’re going to have a chance to finish this off, he needs to be a big part of it.
“He hasn’t found many holes here lately. So that was huge.”
Iowa will play single games against Sacramento State on Tuesday at Banks Field before heading to Michigan for a three-game series beginning on Friday.
“Our expectation going into a series now is to sweep and nothing less,” Peyton said. “And if it is anything less we’ll be mad. This is a thing where we have to build off going to Michigan and try to get a sweep there.”
In addition to Peyton’s foot injury, Iowa also played its second consecutive series without starting third baseman and Solon native Nick Day, who is nursing a back injury.
“If you would have told me before the season started that we would have swept Nebraska with Peyton not hitting and Nick Day not playing third base or hitting, I would have had a hard time believing that,” Heller said. “So to overcome the injures that we had this weekend was huge as well.”