By Pat Harty
This will hurt for a while.
The Iowa baseball team was on a mission to win the Big Ten Tournament, and came close to doing it, losing to top-seed Maryland 4-0 in the title game on Sunday at Charles Schwab Stadium in Omaha, Nebraska.
Iowa entered Sunday’s game with confidence and momentum after having outscored its first three opponents in the conference tournament by a combined margin of 27-7.
The title was there for the taking, and Iowa looked poised to take it.
But on the other hand, Maryland (41-19) was the top-seed in the tournament and ranked 23rd nationally for a reason.
The Terrapins won the Big Ten regular-season title and did so with arguably the best offense in the conference, but it was pitching and defense that carried Maryland to its first Big Ten Tournament championship since it joined the conference in 2015.
Maryland’s offense finally came to life in the fifth inning as it scored three runs on two home runs.
Maryland added another run in the sixth, and that was more than enough offense in a game in which five Maryland pitchers combined for the shutout against an Iowa team that had won 10 of its previous 12 games.
“They did damage and that was the difference in the game,” Iowa head coach Rick Heller said in the post-game press conference. “When we had opportunities, we didn’t do damage, and that was the difference in the game.
“Extremely well played, good energy, we played hard, great defense. The game setup about as well as it could have for us if we would have scored runs. And we just didn’t and tip your hat to Maryland.”
The good news for Iowa is that there still is more baseball to play on a bigger stage as the 42-14 Hawkeyes are considered a lock to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2017.
Iowa played its 13th straight game without four players, including top hitter Keaton Anthony, as they are being withheld from games as an investigation into sports wagering is conducted.
Relief pitcher Jacob Henderson has also been withheld from games, along with catchers Ben Tallman and Gehrig Christensen.
Iowa could’ve used Anthony’s bat on Sunday as the offense just never got on track.
Maryland head coach Rob Vaugn paid Iowa a huge compliment after Sunday’s game, and backed it up with a bold prediction.
“I’ll tell you what, that Iowa team is going to win a regional next week,” Vaughn said on the Big Ten Network post-game show. “That’s a special group of people over there.”
Iowa hit the ball hard in the first two innings, but had nothing to show for it, leaving four runners on base.
Morgan, on the other hand, cruised through the first two innings, allowing just one hit.
That was it for Morgan, however, as Heller turned to his bullpen earlier than usual in preparation for the NCAA Tournament.
Aaron Savary started the third on the mound for Iowa, but he was pulled after Maryland loaded the bases with two outs.
Heller then turned to Jack Whitlock, who had worked out of a bases-loaded jam against Michigan in the first game of the tournament on Tuesday by recording three straight strikeouts.
Whitlock quelled the threat again on Sunday with a strikeout, keeping the game scoreless heading to the fourth.
The game would remain scoreless until Maryland’s No. 9 hitter, Kevin Keister, belted a two-run home run off Jack Whitlock with no outs in the bottom of the fifth inning.
Nick Lorusso then gave Maryland a 3-0 lead in the fifth with a solo blast to left field. It was Lorusso’s 23rd home run this season.
Iowa was in unfamiliar territory in the tournament now playing from behind, and the Maryland bullpen made sure it stayed that way until the game ended as a shutout.
Iowa will learn its NCAA Tournament destination on Monday.
Iowa 000 000 000 – 0 5 0
Maryland 000 031 00x – 4 6 0
Marcus Morgan, Aaron Savary (3), Jack Whitlock (3), Luke Llewellyn (5), Will Christopherson (8) and Cade Moss. Ryan Van Buren, Andrew Johnson (3), Kenny Lippman (5), Nate Haberthier (7, David Falco (7) and Luke Shliger. W – Lippman, L – Whitlock.