Iowa baseball fails to respond against Illinois on Senior Day
Illinois pounds 16 hits in 6-2 win to take three-game series
By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Given the circumstances, there was so much incentive for the Iowa baseball team to defeat Illinois on Sunday to where maybe that was part of the problem.
Maybe the moment was just too big for the Hawkeyes, because for whatever reason, they failed to get the job done against Illinois for the second game in a row, losing 6-2 on Sunday at Duane Banks Field after having lost 14-1 on Saturday.
And with Sunday’s loss, Iowa dropped a series for just second time in the last eight tries, and also hurt its chances of making the NCAA Tournament.
The mood was upbeat prior to Sunday’s game as Iowa honored its senior class.
But as the game would go on to demonstrate, emotion and execution are two different things.
Iowa had plenty of emotion, but failed to match Illinois from an execution standpoint, especially on offense where the Fighting Illini had a 16-5 advantage in base hits in Sunday’s game.
“We just got beat today,” said Iowa coach Rick Heller. “They had a good day. They had 16 hits, but there had to be 12 or 13 of them that were ground balls that found holes.
“They outpitched us and they out-hit us, and for whatever reason, our bats just suddenly went cold.”
Iowa fell to 22-16 with Sunday’s loss and has six games left in the regular season, although, the status of next weekend’s three-series at Northwestern is uncertain since Northwestern had to cancel its game against Nebraska on Sunday due to Covid-19 health concerns.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Heller said. “Hopefully, we get to play as scheduled.”
Iowa is trying to make the NCAA Tournament for the third time under Heller, but its margin for error was considered razor thin heading into the Illinois series.
There was speculation Iowa would have to win its final three series to make the tournament.
Heller was asked after Sunday’s loss if he worries about his players pressing too much.
“I think you always worry a little bit,” Heller said. “That’s what our staff has tried to do the last two days is not focus on anything other than what we normally talk about.
“But internally, they know what’s going on. And no matter how old you are, it’s a challenge at the mental game to not let yourself start to press. I think that’s human nature. But I don’t know if we were pressing as much. I felt a little press probably about the sixth and seventh inning today just because it wasn’t happening.”
Baseball can be a strange and unpredictable game.
Iowa had home-field advantage against Illinois, the emotion from Senior Day and the incentive to play well in hopes of making the NCAA Tournament, and yet, it was Illinois that rose to the occasion.
“It hurts,” said junior Trenton Wallace. “Obviously, they came out and beat us today fair and square. They just put it too us the past two days.”
Iowa rallied late to defeat Illinois 5-4 in the first game on Friday.
But the momentum from that victory quickly faded as Illinois would go on to outscore Iowa 20-3 in the next two games.
“Sometimes, you tip you cap to the opposing pitcher, they both did a real good job the past two days,” Wallace said of Illinois’ starting pitcher on Saturday and Sunday. “And looking forward, we just have to keep taking care of business and keep competing. That’s all we can do from here on out.”