By JAMES ALLAN
PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Junior Blake Hickman threw five shutout innings and the Hawkeyes’ offense erupted for 10 runs, including a six-run second inning, to send the 13th-ranked University of Iowa baseball team to a 10-3 series-tying victory over Rutgers on Friday afternoon at Bainton Field.
"It all started on the mound with Blake," said UI head coach Rick Heller. "He gave us a quality start, went five innings to pick up the win. Offensively, we came out locked in. It was a good day all around, we played great defense, too."
The win moves Iowa to 38-13 overall and 19-4 in the Big Ten heading into Sunday’s regular season finale.
Hickman allowed just two hits over an efficient five innings, retiring the Scarlet Knights in order in three of his five frames. The right-hander threw just 70 pitches and had one strikeout to one walk on the day. The victory moves Hickman to 9-1 overall and 7-0 in Big Ten play. The nine wins are the most by a Hawkeye since 2005 (Tim Gudex).
The Hawkeyes’ offense got rolling in the second, pounding out eight hits and batting around to jump on Scarlet Knights’ pitcher John O’Reilly early. The rally started with three straight one-out singles before Joel Booker singled through the left side to plate Dan Potempa, giving Iowa a 1-0 lead.
Following an RBI single from Nick Day that extended the lead to 2-0, senior Eric Toole delivered the big blow, lacing a bases-clearing triple — his fourth of the year — into the left centerfield gap, stretching the lead to 5-0. The Hawkeyes’ final run came with two outs when junior Tyler Peyton hit an RBI single up the middle to make the score 6-0.
"We were able to chase their starter in the second and give Blake a little cushion to work with," said Heller. "To put the runs on the board early was big for Blake and to get him out of the game in the fifth and get him rested for the conference tournament was key."
Iowa’s offense extended its lead to 8-0 with single runs in the third and fourth innings. Junior Nick Roscetti started the third with a ground-rule double to left field before scoring on an RBI groundout from Booker. In the fourth, senior Jake Mangler started the inning with a walk, moved to second on a balk, third on a groundout, and scored on a Kris Goodman RBI single to left field.
After tallying two hits over the first five innings against Hickman, Rutgers got things going in the sixth against Iowa reliever Brandon Shulista. The Scarlet Knights got a single and walk to lead off the inning before Tom Marcinczyk roped a one-out, two-run triple into the right centerfield gap. Chris Suseck followed with an RBI single to centerfield to cut the deficit to 8-3 and end Shulista’s day.
Iowa summoned senior Nick Hibbing from the bullpen, and he promptly ending the inning, needing just two pitches. The right-hander threw the final 3 2/3 innings, allowing just two hits and fanning four to pick up his seventh save of the season.
"Nick came in and was outstanding," said Heller. "He was dialed in, pounding the zone with all of his pitches. He was composed, located well. I can’t say enough about the job Nick did today."
The Hawkeyes added insurance runs in their final two at-bats. Iowa had a two-out rally in the eighth, using three straight singles, including an RBI base knock from Potempa to make the score 9-3. In the ninth, Toole had a two-out single, stole second, moved to third on a Jake Mangler single, and scored on a wild pitch to plate Iowa’s 10th run.
Every Hawkeye starter had at least one hit in the contest with five players tallying multi-hit games. Potempa went 3-for-5 with a run and two RBIs, while Toole (2-for-6, 3 RBIs, 2 R), Peyton (2-for-5, 1 R, 1 RBI), Goodman (2-for-4), and Roscetti (2-for-4, 2 R) all had two hits.
"(Our offense) was fantastic after yesterday," said Heller. "Our at-bats were decent, but we didn’t get rewarded. We stuck with the plan, lowered our sites a little bit and hit a lot more ground balls and line drives. It was a good confidence booster to break it open and get some runs."
O’Relly (4-3) suffered the loss, allowing six runs on eight hits in 1 2/3 innings. Iowa scored at least one run against all five Rutgers pitchers.
The Hawkeyes go for their ninth straight Big Ten series win Sunday, facing Rutgers in the rubber match of the weekend series beginning at 10 a.m. (CT).