By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – In college baseball, the Friday starter is another way of referring to a team’s ace pitcher.
For the Iowa Hawkeyes, that distinction belongs to redshirt junior southpaw Trenton Wallace, who showed why against Penn State on Friday.
Wallace matched his career-high with 10 strikeouts over six innings, and received strong support in relief from Trace Hoffman and Dylan Nedved, as Iowa defeated the Nittany Lions 4-2 at Banks Field.
“You’ve just got to let your stuff work,” Wallace said of his success in striking out batters. “I found out with myself if I’m putting the ball in the zone more often, I’m putting pressure on the hitters to basically put the ball in play, and sometimes, you’ve just got to let the hitters get themselves out.”
Wallace recorded three strikeouts in the top of the first inning, but Penn State took advantage of a leadoff walk to score one run.
“Obviously, the walk came back to hurt me in the first inning, a couple knocks got him in, and then from there on out, I just said they’ve got to hit their way on,” Wallace said. “That’s the way you’ve got to approach a team like this. They’re a solid hitting team, but you can’t give them the freebies. You’ve just got to be able to challenge them and continue to go with that.”
Penn State’s lead didn’t last long, however, as Izaya Fullard and Zeb Adreon belted back-to-back solo home runs to right field in the bottom of the first. It was the fourth home run for both players this season.
Wallace then recorded two more strikeouts in the second inning without allowing a run, and the Iowa offense stayed hot in the bottom of the frame as senior centerfielder Ben Norman smacked a two-run double, making the score 4-1.
That gave Norman a Big Ten-best 44 RBIs on the season.
Iowa was held scoreless over the final seven innings, but it didn’t matter because Penn States bats were mostly silent.
Wallace and both relievers consistently got ahead in the count and kept the Penn State batters off balance.
“That’s huge,” Heller said of his pitchers getting ahead in the count. “And the days you’ve seen us have trouble that would be the reason, just falling behind and having to give in.
“Tonight, it was nice. We didn’t have to do that much. And when we did, our stuff played good enough to get the out.”
Iowa improved to 20-13 on the season, while Penn State fell to 12-19. The teams will try to complete the three-series on Saturday by playing a doubleheader that is tentatively scheduled to start at 11:05 am at Banks Field.
Iowa is currently in fourth place in the conference standings with 11 games left in the regular season.
The Big Ten canceled the postseason conference tournament, due partly to only playing conference games during the regular season, so that puts even more emphasis on trying to finish strong down the stretch.
Iowa had won six consecutive series before losing two out of three games at Big Ten leader Indiana last weekend.
The Big Ten is expected to get at least three teams in the NCAA Tournament, and possibly four depending on what happens down the stretch.
So at this stage, Iowa is clearly on the bubble.
“We win six series in a row and we go to the first-place team on the road and win Friday night and lose two good games and it’s like the world is caving in and we’re out of the picture in some people’s models,” Heller said. “I’m just like, wow, and I told our guys, we can’t pay any attention to that.
“With the RPI situation, and us playing Big Ten only, we just need to focus on where we can finish in the league. I can’t imagine not taking three or four. We just need to play good baseball and do the best we can, and hopefully, at the end of those games we’re in a good position where they have no choice, but to take us.”