By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Spring still doesn’t officially start for another three weeks, but it sure felt and looked like spring on Tuesday at a sunny Duane Banks Field.
With the temperature close to 60 degrees, and with the sights and sounds from the Iowa baseball team hosting Loras College in the home opener, it was a chance to put winter ‘s grip in the rearview mirror, if only for a few hours.
It was also a chance for Division III Loras College to make a statement against what is expected to be one of top contenders in the Big Ten this season, and the Duhawks seized the opportunity in impressive fashion with a 3-1 victory.
Pitchers Davis Pasco and Ethan Peters limited Iowa to nine hits and Loras scored one run in the top of the first and two in the top of the third and that would prove to be enough offense.
“We weren’t very good tonight and Loras played really well tonight,” said Iowa coach Rick Heller. “It’s not taking anything away from their effort. Pasco did a great job of sinking the ball down in the bottom of the zone and we just beat it into the ground all night. We didn’t drive to any gaps and to his credit, I don’t think we had a lead-off guy get on until the eighth inning.”
Iowa loaded the bases in the bottom of the eight, but then centerfielder Kyle Huckstorf struck out to end the threat.
Peters then struck out Sam Link in the bottom of the ninth to end the game.
The Loras players rushed the field when the game ended to celebrate, while the Iowa players were left searching for answers.
Iowa was playing at home for the first time this season after having played the first six games at tournaments in South Carolina and in Texas in back-to-back weekends.
“That just can’t happen,” said Iowa second baseman Brendan Sher. “We had two weekends to play, we come out here on home turf, beautiful weather, we have no excuses at all to play like that. We prepared as hard as anyone in the country, and to play like that on all levels is just not acceptable. There’s no excuses for that and we can’t be doing that. That’s not the team that we are.”
Iowa fell to 4-3 on the season and has lost three games in row.
The Hawkeyes will give another Division III school a chance for a statement win when they host Cornell College on Thursday at 4:05 p.m. at Banks Field.
“At this point in the time of the year, we just need to play,” Heller said. “You throw this game in there hoping you get a day like today and you hope that we take advantage of it.
“But the fact of the matter is we’ve been on the road for 10 out of the last 12 days and maybe that wasn’t the thing that we needed. I don’t know. I know we needed it on the mound. Those guys needed to get out there and pitch whether we won or lost.
“It’s the same thing tomorrow. I’ve got to get those guys out there.”
Iowa’s pitching wasn’t the problem in Tuesday’s game as five different Hawkeye pitchers held Loras to just seven hits.
The Duhawks made up for their lack of offense by being aggressive on the base paths, and on the mound.
“We’re playing baseball and they’re going to come out hard and they did,” Heller said. “That’s the thing. A lot of teams come in and they play scared. They did not. So tip your hat to those guys.”
Loras head coach Carl Tebon thanked Heller for scheduling the game when he didn’t have to play a Division III school, and when the weather could have been a factor.
But Heller also got his start in coaching at Upper Iowa, which competed in Division III at the time, so he understands how important it is to play a Division I school.
“I really appreciate Rick first of all playing us because he doesn’t have to do that,” Tebon said. “He’s a division three guy. We played well tonight and our guys were ready for this moment and I can’t be happier. I really can’t be, and it was fun and exciting for us.
“And, hopefully, this helps us the rest of the way.”