By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – When Iowa baseball coach Rick Heller left Minneapolis last Sunday, he was thinking that his team might be poised to make a run.
As it turns out, he was right, but it hasn’t gone exactly how Heller had envisioned.
His team is now on a run after having swept Nebraska in a three-game series at Duane Banks Field, capped by a 6-1 victory on Sunday, to extend its winning streak to four games.
But prior to making this current run, Iowa suffered probably its worst loss of the season, losing 14-3 at Illinois-Chicago in seven innings last Tuesday.
Iowa walked 12 Illinois-Chicago batters, and allowing that many free bases was just too much to overcome.
It was a deflating and embarrassing loss, but it also might have sent a message that is helping to fuel this current surge.
“It was a bit of a wake-up call, and it was an opportunity for us to really look in the mirror,” Heller said of the loss against Illinois-Chicago. “Because I felt like, and I would have told you guys after the last two games at Minnesota, that we were going to go on a roll.
“I really felt that. I felt like we cleaned some things up.”
Iowa bounced back from the loss at Illinois-Chicago by defeating Bradley 6-1 just 24 hours later in Iowa City last Wednesday.
That created some positive momentum heading into what could’ve been considered a must-sweep series against Nebraska, which entered the weekend 7-2 in conference play and three games ahead of Iowa in the Big Ten standings.
But now with the series sweep in which Iowa outscored the Cornhuskers 25-7, Iowa and Nebraska are both tied at 7-5 in the conference.
Iowa also improved to 29-10 overall with Sunday’s victory and will face Heller’s alma mater, Upper Iowa, on Tuesday at Duane Banks Field, before hitting the road to face Penn State in a three-game series starting next Friday in State College, Pennsylvania.
And while the game against Upper Iowa won’t count in the standings, or in the RPI, it still means a lot to Heller for multiple reasons.
“It’s obviously big for me,” Heller said. “But they’re all the same. That’s the thing that I can’t stress enough. Nothing changes. The expectations are all the same, that we come out with the same focus and discipline that we showed this weekend, especially our offense.
“For me, it’s you don’t want to have a dud in there in the mid-week. You want to keep playing well. And we all see the scores. I mean there’s 15 of them every Tuesday that you look and it’s like what in the hell happened there. That’s college baseball and when you’re throwing a bunch of guys that don’t get to throw all that often, you’re just one or two bad innings from losing to anybody.”
As for Sunday’s game, Iowa received a quality start from Ty Langenberg, who allowed just three hits over seven innings to get the win. He also had nine strikeouts and walked just two batters.
“That’s big for us as a team, obviously, taking down a team that’s been really successful in Big Ten play so far,” Langenberg said.
Iowa fell behind 1-0 in the first inning of Sunday’s game as Langenberg allowed a solo home run to Brice Matthews on just his seventh pitch of the game.
But the Cornhuskers would only get two more hits the rest of the way as Langenberg buckled down on the mound.
Iowa scored three runs in the second inning and three in the fifth, and that was more than enough offense.
Raider Tello, Sam Petersen and Michael Seegers all had two hits apiece for Iowa, while senior first baseman Brennen Dorighi belted a solo home run in the fifth that was measured at 418 feet.
“I think just to come out here and make a statement and kind of even the playing field across the Big Ten to just get those three wins is huge for us,” said Dorighi, who transferred to Iowa after having played four seasons at Wofford in South Carolina.
The entire series against Nebraska was played in chilly temperatures in the low-to-mid 40s.
For Dorighi, adjusting to the weather has been an ongoing process after having attended college in South Carolina.
Asked if he is getting used to the midwestern weather, Dorighi said: “I’m working on it.”
Dorighi tries to convince himself that the weather isn’t a big deal, and that includes not wearing sleeves under his jersey during games.
“It’s just part of it, I guess,” Dorighi said of the weather.
Nebraska 100 000 000 – 1 4 0
Iowa 030 030 00x – 6 10 2
W – Langenberg (4-2), L – Will Walsh (2-2). 2B – Sam Peterson (I). 3B – Cade Moss (I). HR – Brice Matthews (N), Brennen Dorighi (I).