Call it the shot heard around Big Ten country, but nowhere louder than in Solon, Iowa.
Nick Day’s game-winning, walk-off 2-run homer, which came with two strikes and two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning against Ohio State on Wednesday, will forever have a special place in the history of the Iowa baseball program.
With one swing, the senior from Solon rescued the second-seeded Hawkeyes from defeat in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament at Target Field in Minneapolis.
Day’s blast also sent shock waves throughout his home town.
Keith McSweeney, who was Day’s high school baseball coach, immediately went on Twitter to put the game-winning blast in perspective.
“Arguably the biggest HR in Hawkeye Baseball in last 25 years by Nick Day to beat the Buckeyes…oh and he’s from Solon BTW “solonstrong,” McSweeney posted just minutes after the come-from-behind victory, which improved Iowa’s record to 39-14.
McSweeney has been closely following the Iowa baseball program for over 20 years, starting when he was a student at the University of Iowa in the late 1980s and early 1990s. There haven’t been many situations like Wednesday’s game, which was considered a must-win for the Hawkeyes in their quest to host an NCAA Regional for the first time in school history.
“They haven’t had too many opportunities really to put an exclamation point on a season,” McSweeney said. “And the meaning of the game, with an (NCAA) regional kind of looming and potentially hosting, I thought it was just a clutch at bat.”
Solon is a close-knit sports town with residents who take pride in the accomplishments of others.
“It means a lot,” said McSweeney, who is also Solon’s athletic director. “We, obviously, follow kids like Nick after they leave us.
“He’s somebody who is just an outstanding student. So it means a lot because he’s succeeding. He’s doing all the things you’d hope he would do. He’s had a great baseball career at Iowa, playing all four years.”
Day is succeeding despite being hampered by a nagging back injury that forced him to miss several games this season.
“I know even on that last swing I’m sure he probably felt a little wince until he saw it clear the fence because he’s been playing hurt,” McSweeney said.
Ray Gilmore has worked in some capacity with the Iowa baseball team for over three decades, now serving as the official scorekeeper. He recently referred to Day as the toughest player he has seen during that time.
“If people just knew how much he’s had to overcome,” Gilmore said. “His ability to play with pain is incredible.”
Day’s homer to left field came off a low, inside slider thrown by Ohio State closer Trace Dempsey.
“I doubt that he was too amped up in that situation,” McSweeney said. “He was just trying to put the bat on the ball. But he’s an athlete.
“And that pitch that he swung on, it was an inside curve ball down at the thigh and he just turned on it and, boy, showed some raw power there. He got it up in the air and that was just clutch.”
Iowa will face No. 3 seed Michigan at 5 p.m. Thursday in the winners bracket. Iowa won two out of three games against Michigan in the regular season.
The Hawkeyes also set a school-record by having six players receive all-Big Ten recognition under second-year coach Rick Heller.
“They’ve already, obviously, pumped a lot of life into that program under coach Heller,” McSweeney said. “But moments like that, you need where the stage is a little bigger, they’re in the big park up there, to really pump fan interest into it.
“And what a great moment for Solon. We’re so tickled right now. We’re all kind of in shock. The hair on the back of your neck is standing up and you have the chills.”
McSweeney’s schedule kept him from attending Wednesday’s game in person. But he hopes to be at Target Field later this week to cheer for Day and his cohorts.
Day, who plays third base and bats ninth in the order, had two of Iowa’s seven hits in Wednesday’s game. No other Hawkeye had more than one hit.
“Obviously, he’s the most valuable for them with his glove,” McSweeney said. “But when your nine-hole hitter can hit a walk-off, I mean that’s amazing.”