The 15th-ranked Iowa baseball team keeps finding ways to win games, but the search on Tuesday lasted much longer than expected.
John Barrett’s sacrifice fly to deep center field drove in Eric Toole with the winning run as Iowa defeated Sacramento State 4-3 in 18 innings at Banks Field.
“I was like we’re going home, thank God,” Barrett said of his reaction when he hit the ball.
The marathon victory improved Iowa’s record to 31-11 overall heading into a three-game series at Michigan beginning on Friday. The Hawkeyes also improved to 4-0 in extra-inning games this season.
Iowa coach Rick Heller was concerned about his players being emotionally flat for Tuesday’s game after sweeping Nebraska in a three-game series this past weekend.
“It was big to get the win," Heller said. “When you play that long, you don’t want to lose.”
Both teams had numerous chances to win the game, only to come up short. Sacramento State stranded 20 base runners, while Iowa left 18 runners on base.
The game, which started at 4:05 p.m. and lasted 5 hours and 40 minutes, was the equivalent of a doubleheader with regard to innings. Fans who stayed until the end got to see two games for the price of one.
Tuesday’s attendance was listed at 582. Some of the fans left early, but those who stayed got to see a dramatic finish.
Iowa second baseman Jake Mangler said it became a mental challenge as the game wore on.
“You get tired and start thinking about other things,” said Mangler, who along with Toole led Iowa with three hits. “It is hard to stay focused, especially that late in the game and especially at the plate.
“You have so many at bats and everybody is trying to do the big thing and make the big play.”
Tuesday’s game lasted for so long that Heller now has to revise his practice schedule for Wednesday. He had planned on having a simulated scrimmage with some of his reserves facing some of his pitchers who weren’t expected to throw in Tuesday’s game.
“Now we’ve actually bounced practice time back to (4 p.m.) to give them some rest,” Heller said. “It’ll probably be more of a walk through on the field and then we’ll hit in the cages and try to set things up for the Friday starter that we’re going to face.
Iowa used eight pitchers, beginning with former Iowa City West standout Nick Gallagher as the starter. The Hawkeyes trailed 2-0 after four innings, but answered with two runs in the bottom of the fifth inning.
Sacramento State scored one run in the top of the 12th inning. But Iowa answered again with a run in the bottom of the inning to even the score 3-3.
Luke Vandermaten and Jared Mandel combined to pitch seven innings in relief for Iowa. Mandel entered the game in the 14th inning and only allowed one hit over three scoreless innings.
“I think tonight I was more relaxed and I was definitely dialed in knowing it’s a big game the later in went,” said Mandel, a sophomore southpaw from Mundelein, Ill. “To take a loss tonight would have been rough.
“So I just went out there and executed my pitches. My curve ball and my change-up were both on tonight big time. And I got my fastball over for strikes and just pounded the zone and let them hit it and got outs.”
Heller praised his pitchers for carrying the team while the offense struggled.
“As bad as we were offensively and the opportunities that we squandered, the positive tonight was how well our pitchers competed,” Heller said. “A lot of guys pitched extremely well and pitched out of some jams in pressure situations.
“And I thought we stayed locked in defensively the entire game, which was big.”
Heller’s only regret is that catcher Jimmy Frankos played the entire game out of necessity. Iowa’s other catcher, Daniel Aaron Moriel, wasn’t available after starting the game as the designated hitter and then being replaced by a pinch hitter.
“We thought it would be a grand idea to let Daniel (be the designated hitter) tonight and then pinch hit for him think it was going to be a normal nine-inning game,” Heller said. We ended up with no catchers that were active other than Jimmy.
“So that was rough on him. He’ll probably be in the ice bath right now.”
Iowa prevailed Tuesday despite missing two of its top players. Tyler Peyton is nursing a foot injury and only made one plate appearance as a pinch hitter, while third baseman Nick Day missed the game because of a back injury.
Heller has preached to his players about the importance of winning the mid-week non-conference games. The Hawkeyes are in position to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1990, so every victory moves them a step closer to achieving that milestone.
“These are definitely key games,” Mandel said. “They’re resume builders.”