By Pat Harty
This has been a rough spring for Iowa baseball player Izaya Fullard, both on and off the field.
His mother was diagnosed with cancer in February, and he also had a hand injury that caused him to miss the first six weeks of the season.
But the former Iowa City West standout has stayed strong, stayed the course and stayed focused on the task at hand, which is making the most of his senior season as a Hawkeye.
Fullard kept his senior season alive on Friday by smacking what proved to be the game-winning single with two strikes and two outs in the ninth inning of Iowa’s 5-4 victory over Purdue in an elimination game in the Big Ten Tournament.
His line drive sailed past the outstretched glove of Purdue shortstop Evan Albrecht and allowed Michael Seegers to score from second base.
Will Christoperson then retired the side in the bottom of the ninth to secure Iowa’s 34th win of the season.
“You try not to think about it, but it’s definitely in the back of my mind,” Fullard said of that having possibly been his final plate appearance as a Hawkeye. “I was just real fortunate that I was able to come through for my team.”
Fullard’s game-winning hit earned him a post-game interview on the Big Ten Network, and with former Iowa baseball player Danan Hughes conducting the interview.
“It’s huge,” Fullard said of the win. “That’s where we are right now. We have to survive and advance, taking it one game at a time.
“Getting this win today gives us another chance tomorrow to keep fighting for a Big Ten championship.”
Iowa will now face the Penn State-Rutgers loser at 9 a.m. Saturday in what is also an elimination game in Omaha, Nebraska.
Iowa, which is seeded third in the eight-team tournament, was sent to the elimination bracket after losing to No. 6 seed Penn State 5-2 in Thursday’s opener.
Christopherson was huge for Iowa in relief on Friday after entering the game with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning, and with runners on first and third.
He recorded a strikeout to end the seventh-inning threat and then retired the side in both the eighth and ninth innings to help secure the win.
Christopherson finished with five strikeouts over 2 1/3 innings.
Iowa was considered an NCAA bubble team entering the conference tournament, so a loss to Purdue on Friday probably would’ve have ended any hope of making the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2017.
But thanks to Fullard’s timely hit and to Christopherson’s dominace on the mound, Iowa lives to play another day.
“Wow, what a great game,” said Iowa coach Rick Heller. “Hopefully, now we’ll all take a deep breath and get back to playing Hawkeye baseball.”
Seegers reached base in the ninth by hitting a one-out single.
All-Big Ten first baseman Peyton Williams then hit a popup down the left-field line that Purdue third baseman Troy Viola chased down and caught.
However, Viola got tangled up with the tarp and that gave Seegers enough time to advance to second base.
“Viola made one of th best plays I think I’ve ever seen at the end of that game,” Heller said. “He was kind of stuck in the crack and couldn’t get out and Michael Seegers was able to take advantage and get to second.”
There were a number of plays that helped to keep Iowa’s season alive, including Ben Beutal’s pickoff at second base in the bottom of the seventh. It was Beutal’s ninth pickoff for the season.
The runner was ruled safe at first, but the call was reversed after the umpires reviewed the replay in which Fullard, Iowa’s starting second baseman, appeared to have clearly tagged out the runner.
Beutal gave up a double after recording the pickoff, but Purdue wasn’t able to take the lead with the runner having been picked off second base.
“That was a very hard fought game and I’m just real proud of our team, just sticking with it and finding a way to get it done today when we were having a hard time hitting some barrells for the marjority of that game,” Heller said. “I tip my hat to Purdue. They played just as hard.”
— Iowa Baseball (@UIBaseball) May 27, 2022