By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Just one day after experiencing the thrill of earning his 1,000th career victory, Iowa baseball coach Rick Heller experienced the painful side of the sport he loves on Sunday, literally and figurately.
In addition to watching his relief pitchers allow five walks in the final three innings of a 5-2 loss to Ohio State, Heller also aggravated a knee injury while coaching in the third base box in the seventh inning at Duane Banks Field.
He is scheduled to have surgery Monday morning to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee.
The injury has bothered Heller since January, but he was able to withstand the pain until it became worse on Sunday.
Heller said the UI medical staff has told him that he should be able to coach on Friday when Iowa hosts Michigan State in the first game of a critical three-game series at Duane Banks Field.
“I’ll find a way,” Heller said.
His team, on the other hand, couldn’t find a way to win on Sunday, and instead had to settle for just winning the series rather than sweeping the Buckeyes.
The same Iowa offense that scored 16 and 15 runs in the first two games, respectively, against Ohio State only plated two runs on eight hits in Sunday’s game.
But it was the late-inning walks allowed by Iowa’s relief pitchers that really seemed to bother Heller.
Iowa walked eight batters, but five of them, including one with the bases loaded, came in the final three innings after starting pitcher Ty Langenberg had been removed from the game.
“If you walk out of here after a loss, you’d like to think that they beat you,” Heller said. “And we didn’t make them earn it. They played well. I’m not taking anything away from them. They did what they needed to do.
“But when you’re handing them free bases and walking guys with the bases loaded, that’s frustrating to anyone, including our guys. They’re not trying to do it, but when it happens, you walk out of here feeling like you just didn’t make them earn it. And that’s what you want to do. If you get beat, you want to be able to say that they found a way to beat you offensively. And they didn’t have to do that today.”
Iowa played its third straight game without sophomore Keaton Anthony, who is one of the top hitters in the Big Ten.
Anthony is being withheld from competition for what is believed to be possible NCAA rule violations based on a statement released this past Friday by the Iowa athletic department. The statement said that due to potential NCAA violations, some student-athletes are being being withheld from competition, and that there would be no additional comment “as this is an ongoing investigation.”
Anthony’s bat probably could’ve helped on Sunday, but credit also goes to the Ohio State pitchers for executing their pitches at pivotal times.
“You’re not going to score double-digit runs every day, and they kept the ball down today, so we couldn’t get the ball in the air, a lot of ground balls,” Heller said.
The Ohio State pitchers walked five batters, but they also prevented any big rallies by Iowa.
“Offensively, we weren’t great today,” Heller said. “But a lot of it had to do with them making pitches when they needed to. The guys that were giving us the free bases, they’d wiggle out of it.”
Iowa’s record fell to 34-12 overall and 11-6 in the Big Ten, while Ohio State improved to 23-25 and 6-15.
With the Iowa offense struggling to score runs, it was critical that Langenberg keep the score close, and he was able to do that for the most part.
He pitched 6 1/3 innings and allowed three runs and four hits while recording seven strikeouts.
He also walked three batters which is two fewer than Iowa’s four relief pitchers allowed over the final 2 2/3 innings.
The game was tied at 2-2 when Langenberg took the mound for the seventh inning. He recorded one out before Heller turned to his bullpen.
However, the move backfired as Ohio State scored three runs in the seventh inning, thanks mostly to Iowa allowing three walks in the inning.
Langenberg recorded a quality start, but his teammates only scored two runs after combining for 31 in the previous two games.
“That’s just how it goes, Langenberg said. “But I understand they might be a little bit tired at the end of the weekend, especially after putting up a performances like that.
“But realistically, my job is to go out there and put up zeroes and do the best I can and just let the offense do their job.”
Sam Hojnar scored Iowa’s first run of the game on a solo home run in the bottom of the second inning.
It was Hojnar’s third home run in his last four at bats as he clubbed two homers in Saturday’s 15-3 victory over the Buckeyes.
But unlike Saturday’s game when the Hawkeyes continued to score runs, they only scored one run in the final seven innings of Sunday’s game.
Ohio State 001 001 300 – 5 8 1
Iowa 010n010 000 – 2 8 0
LOB – OSU 12, Iowa 11. W – Justin Eckhardt (3-3), L – Langenberg (5-3).