By James Allan
IOWA CITY, Iowa – The 15th-ranked University of Iowa baseball team completed the weekend sweep of Minnesota, downing the Gophers, 7-1, on Senior Day on Sunday afternoon at Duane Banks Field in the regular season home finale.
"You couldn’t have drawn up a better script these last two days," said UI head coach Rick Heller. "I’ve been a part of a lot of good teams where this day doesn’t go as well due to all the emotions and wanting to do so well. These guys just went out and played their normal game."
It is the Hawkeyes’ fourth Big Ten series sweep this season, improving the team’s record to 37-12 overall and 18-3 in Big Ten play. Iowa has clinched at least the No. 2 seed in the 2015 Big Ten Tournament, as it heads to Rutgers for the final regular season series trailing Illinois by 1 1/2 games.
Junior Calvin Mathews won his second straight start, allowing one run on seven hits over five innings. The right-hander had five strikeouts against one walk in the game. Senior Nick Hibbing earned his sixth save, tossing four shutout innings in relief.
The Hawkeyes were efficient, scoring seven runs on seven hits in the game. Six players contributed to the hit total, including a two-hit effort from junior Joel Booker (2-for-4, 2 runs, 1 RBI). Seniors Eric Toole and Jake Mangler had two RBIs apiece.
"I couldn’t be more pleased with our offense," said Heller. "They were very opportunistic. Minnesota walked us seven times, and we only struck out once. We battled all week long at the plate and executed as well as we have all season long and received some clutch hitting when we needed it."
Iowa jumped out to an early lead for a second straight game, pushing one run across in the first before breaking through for three runs in the second.
The Hawkeyes manufactured the game’s first run when Toole drew a leadoff walk and stole second — his 26th swipe of the year — to move into scoring position. After moving to third on a Jake Mangler grounder, junior Tyler Peyton gave Iowa a 1-0 lead with a sacrifice fly to right centerfield.
Iowa loaded the bases with one out in the second against Minnesota starter Dalton Sawyer, courtesy of a two walks sandwiched around a Booker single. Toole drove in the third run with an RBI groundout before Mangler laced a two-run, two-out double over Dan Motl’s head in left center field, extending Iowa’s lead to 4-0.
The Hawkeyes manufactured their fifth run in the fourth. Iowa had a pair of walks in the inning and a double steal saw Booker and Nick Day move to second and third with one out. Toole lifted a fly ball to center field, which was deep enough to plate Booker, extending the Hawkeye lead to 5-0.
The Gophers broke through against Mathews in the fifth, stringing together three singles. With two outs and two runners on, designated hitter Matt Fielder laced an RBI single up the middle, cutting the lead to 5-1.
The Hawkeyes got the run back an inning later and added their seventh run in the eighth. Junior Daniel Aaron Moriel turned on a 2-1 pitch from reliever Lucas Gilbreath to lead off the sixth, driving it over the left field fence for his first career home run.
Junior Nick Roscetti started the rally in the eighth, reaching on a one-out single to right field. Roscetti extended Iowa’s lead to 7-1, scoring on Booker’s RBI single up the middle.
Sawyer (3-3) suffered the loss, allowing five runs on three hits and issuing five walks in 3 1/3 innings.
The Hawkeyes close out the regular season in New Jersey, facing Rutgers from May 14-16.
"I feel a lot better going to Rutgers with how we were able to manage our pitching staff," said Heller. "It gives us some flexibility."