The Iowa baseball players are a greedy and determined bunch.
Their goal isn’t just to win a three-game conference series, but rather to sweep it. Anything less is considered a disappointment.
The 15th-ranked Hawkeyes took the first step in accomplishing that lofty goal by defeating Minnesota 7-3 on Friday before an announced crowd of 1,112 at Banks Field.
“You can’t sweep a series unless you win that first game,” said senior centerfielder Eric Toole. “That’s what we try to do every weekend. We got the first one. And we have to come out with same intensity and the same energy.”
The teams will play single games on Saturday and Sunday to complete the three-game series, which is Iowa’s last home series of the regular season. Iowa has won seven consecutive Big Ten series, including three-game sweeps against Indiana, Purdue and Nebraska.
Junior pitcher Tyler Peyton held the Gopher batters mostly in check while scattering six hits over seven innings. The Grimes native finished with five strikeouts and just one walk, improving his record to 6-3 overall.
“When he’s on, he’s one,” Toole said of Peyton. “And no one can touch Peyton when he’s on. And from an offensive standpoint, that means we have to get some runs to support him. And as a defense, we just have to back him up.”
Ryan Erickson pitched the last two innings in relief for Iowa, which improved to 35-12 overall and 16-3 in the Big Ten.
“Always getting that first game and knowing you have a win under your belt is always a good feeling to have for these next two games,” Peyton said. “And to get a big win on Friday night, a great crowd. It’s just a great feeling.”
Toole did his share to support Peyton by collecting two hits and driving in three runs. Toole also achieved a personal milestone by becoming Iowa’s all-time singles leader with 197. His record-breaking hit came with two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the sixth inning. Toole smacked a two-run single to right field to expand Iowa’s lead to 6-3.
“It’s an accolade that I was working towards this season,” said Toole, a native of Council Bluffs. “But it’s something that I’m going to put behind me until the season is over.”
Iowa coach Rick Heller has mixed emotions as Toole nears the end of his college career. Toole played his first two seasons at Iowa under Jack Dahm, who was fired after the 2013 season and replaced by Heller.
“I’m just trying not to think about him not being here next year, to be honest with you because he’s going to be irreplaceable,” Heller said of Toole. ”He’s an outstanding player and he’s done it for four years. He’s been a great player since day one.”
Iowa only had seven hits, all of which were singles, but they were timely hits against one of the Big Ten’s top pitchers in Ben Meyer. Meyer was lifted from the game with two outs in the sixth inning after throwing 107 pitches.
Senior Kris Goodman expanded Iowa’s lead to 3-0 by driving in two runs with a bases-loaded single to right field in the third inning.
“I was really happy with how we played today,” Heller said. “I thought that our at-bats were outstanding all night long. We didn’t have a lot of hits. But we did an awesome job with Meyer in the first four innings. We battled pitches and had long at bats, even if we didn’t have anything to show for it at the end. We got his pitch count up high, which is what we wanted to do to get him out of the game as quickly as we possibly could.”
Iowa only committed one error, but it was costly. The Gophers scored two unearned runs in the top of the fifth inning on a throwing error by shortstop Nick Roscetti, trimming Iowa’s lead to 3-2. Minnesota scored another run in the sixth to even the score at 3-3.
However, Iowa answered with three runs in the bottom of the sixth inning and one in the seventh to secure the victory.
Heller said his only advice to Roscetti after he committed the error was to forget about it and move on.
“I told him he was going to get about 15 more this weekend,” Heller said of ground balls. “You better wipe it away and not worry about it. Just put it behind you because there are more coming.”
Iowa entered this week trailing Big Ten leader Illinois by two games in the loss column. Illinois will play Rutgers in a doubleheader on Saturday after their game on Friday was postponed because of the weather.
Iowa and Illinois don’t face each other during the regular season, much to the dismay of the Iowa players.
“It kind of is (frustrating) because this is the year where we’re both kind of outstanding,” Toole said. “But we’ll get them in the Big Ten Tournament. We’ll see them there, and hopefully, it will be a great matchup.”
Minnesota 000 021 000 – 3 8 2
Iowa 003 003 10x – 7 7 1
Ben Meyer, Brian Glowicki (6), Jess Jordan (7) Tyler Hanson (8) and Matt Halloran; Tyler Peyton, Ryan Erickson (8) and Jimmy Frankos. W – Peyton (6-3), L – Meyer (4-5). E – Tony Skjefte (M), Meyer (M), Nick Roscetti (I). 2B – Austin Athmann (M). LOB – Minnesota 6, Iowa 7. SB – Eric Toole (I) 25, Peyton (I) 2.