By Rani Simawe
IOWA CITY, Iowa – The Iowa baseball team survived a bases-loaded bind in the ninth inning to secure a 4-3 series-clinching victory against Illinois on Sunday at Banks Field.
The Hawkeyes traded games with Illinois on Saturday leaving the three-game series up for grabs on Sunday. The victory improved Iowa’s record to 4-5 in the Big Ten and 14-15 overall.
Sunday’s victory came after inconsistent play the last couple of Sundays.
The Hawkeyes scored three runs in the fifth inning to take a 4-1 lead, but Illinois scored runs in the seventh and eighth innings to inch back into the game. Michael Hurwitz struck first for the Illini with an RBI single. The following inning, Mark Skonieczny’s grounded out with the bases loaded, but drove in a run, trimming the deficit to 4-3.
The Hawkeye bullpen allowed two runs on just one hit, but had six walks late in the game, which kept the Illini withiun striking distance.
“It was uncharacteristic of what we’ve done this year,” Iowa coach Rick Heller said of his bullpen. “We put ourselves in a really bad spot.
"Tip your hat to Zach (Daniels) because he really picked us up.”
Iowa freshman Zach Daniels entered the game to relieve Luke Vandermaten after Illinois’ Skonieczny batted in a run in the eighth. The Hawkeyes closed out the eighth inning without allowing another run.
Daniels struck out Adam Walton to open the ninth. Illinois’ next two at-bats resulted in two runners on base. Daniels walked Michael Hurwitz, and Jason Goldenstein got on base after a Hawkeye error.
With runners on second and third, Daniels intentionally walked Dan Rowbottom to load the bases.
The Cedar Rapids Kennedy High alum then caught Matthew James swinging for the second out. Illinois’ Doran Turchin grounded out to Daniels in a bang-bang play as Daniels got a glove on the ball, collected himself and tossed it to first to earn the out and his first save of the season.
“Just throw strikes and I just had to get the ground ball,” said Daniels. “My teammates always say ‘one pitch away, one pitch away.’ So that was really my mentality. Just take it one pitch at a time.”
Illinois took an early 1-0 lead in the first inning against starter Nick Gallagher. The West High alum struggled early as the Illini hit three straight singles to open the game. After Jason Goldstein’s RBI single, Gallagher walked Dan Rowbottom and to load the bases with no outs.
Gallagher gathered himself and avoided giving up more runs after getting two ground outs and a pop up to close out the inning.
“Nick stepped up and that’s what I wanted to see out of him,” Heller said. “Was Nick going to get tough when things got tough? We found out right away in the first.”
Sunday was Gallagher’s first career start. After allowing a run early in the first, no more runs were scored on Gallagher’s watch. His performance earned him the victory.
The Hawkeye offense was propelled by the bat of Joel Booker. Booker belted a three-run home run to give Iowa a 4-1 lead in the fifth and drove in another run.
“I could tell Booker was really seeing the ball well today, and he was feeling it,” Heller said.
Booker flied out on his first two at-bats, before getting an RBI on a sacrifice fly to tie the game at 1-1 in the third.
“The mentality is not to get stressed,” said Booker. “This is big for us. We haven’t played well on Sundays, so to finally come out with a Sunday victory shows we can win on Sundays.”
The Hawkeyes host Air Force on Tuesday at Banks Field at 6:05 pm.