Iowa Nine wins three of four against Purdue!
Iowa had not won a Big Ten road series since taking three of four from Michigan State in 1999. The three-game winning streak moves their overall mark to 15-19. Within the Big Ten, the Hawks are now 6-10 and in ninth place in the standings. Only three and one-half games separate second place and ninth place.
The pitching staff was outstanding for the Hawks all weekend, and staff ace Reed Pawelk set the tone on Friday. Even though the Hawks lost 4-2, Pawelk tossed six scoreless frames before giving up two runs in the seventh inning. He walked none and struck out seven, but was out-pitched by Purdue ace Chadd Blasko. Blasko threw seven scoreless innings while striking out twelve in eight and two-thirds innings. He was charged with two runs, but gave up only two hits as he spotted his mid-90s M.P.H. fastball in good locations all night. "Both pitchers threw very well, but Blasko was very good," said Coach Scott Broghamer. "He is one of the top two starters we have seen this year."
Coach Broghamer switched up the batting order on Friday by moving 3B Ian Mattiace into the leadoff spot, but the dividends did not pay off until Saturday. After struggling against Blasko the night before, the batting order erupted for twelve hits and nine runs in the 9-3 win in game two. Mattiace set the tone by going 3-4 with 2 doubles and 1 RBI, while 1B Brad Carlson went 2-4 with 2 HRs and 3 RBIs. Both second basemen on the roster contributed as Andy Cox and Chris Groth both had a pair of hits and each drove in a run. Cox was the DH all weekend, while Groth played good defense and hit a homerun in the game. Starter Matt Hasz went four innings to get the win, while Nick Jensen went three scoreless innings to record his fourth save of the season.
The Hawks completed the Saturday doubleheader sweep in game three with an unlikely hero. Because of injury problems in the starting staff, Cory Hollenhorst filled in with a very effective performance. He went the distance for the shutout in the 3-0 win, allowing six hits and striking out three. "Cory Hollenhorst really stood up and took charge," said Broghamer. "Not only did it save our bullpen, but it was just a great effort." On the offensive side, it was the usual cast of hitting stars as the seniors led the way. Mattiace had a double among his two hits, and scored twice. LF Andy Jansen slugged a double and drove in Mattiace twice for two RBIs. Carlson also had a double, but RF John Paul Cappellano put the game away with a homerun in the top of the seventh. Cappellano was 2-3 in the game.
After finally winning two games in a Big Ten series for the first time this season, there could have been concern about a letdown for the Sunday finale, but the team came through. After being effective in the bullpen for most of the season, lefthander Chris Maliszewski pitched very well as an emergency starter in his first start of the season. The sophomore threw seven innings while limiting Purdue to no earned runs on five hits. He also struck out five while walking none. Freshman Jeff Gilmore relieved Maliszewski with a 2-1 lead in the eighth, but the Boilermakers tacked on one run in the frame to tie the contest, 2-2. However, the Hawks regained the lead the next inning as freshman SS Jeff Gremley singled with two out and scored on a double from Chris Groth. Gilmore followed in the bottom of the ninth by retiring the side in order for his second win of the season. Carlson and Mattiace led the hitting attack with two hits apiece. Carlson had a double among his two hits, and the extra base hit drove in a run.
The emergency starters threw well this weekend, but Coach Broghamer has been pleased with how they and the rest of the bullpen have been throwing in recent weeks. "I think our bullpen has been very strong all year long," said Broghamer. "If you look at the number of runners the bullpen has inherited from the starters, they haven't allowed many to score in the last few weeks. After being so consistent, you get to the point where you expect them to come in and do a good job no matter in what situation they are given. Chris and Cory really did a good job this weekend."
The hitting lineup will probably stay the same for awhile due to the recent success. Mattiace responded to hitting leadoff by batting .583 (7-12) in the three wins. Gremley was formerly the leadoff hitter, and he seemed to take well to hitting down in the order. "Gremley had a good solid weekend both defensively and offensively," said Broghamer. "I think he is a little more comfortable down in the order. Ian has all the attributes to hit leadoff as he takes walks, hits for a good average, can hit the ball out of the ballpark, and steals bases. Now that we have gotten a little hotter, I plan on sticking with this for a little while."
If the Hawkeyes want to continue their momentum going into this weekend, they are going to have to keep their focus. They play Western Illinois on Tuesday, Northern Iowa on Wednesday, and then host Michigan State this weekend. Iowa's most recent matchup with Western Illinois was a 13-7 victory in 1999, and Iowa has won the last four meetings. In the all-time series, the Hawks lead 53-20-2. Sophomore Ryan Mentkowski missed his start this last weekend because of injury, so Coach Broghamer might start him on Tuesday if he is healthy.
The Northern Iowa game is at Waterloo this week, and the Panthers will play in Iowa City next week. Although the Hawks hold a dominating 62-16 lead in the all-time series, the Panthers have faired much better in recent years. UNI was solid in the regular season in 2001, and beat the Hawks both times they faced each other. The Panthers turned it up in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament and qualified for the NCAA Tournament after winning the MVC title. Not only has Iowa lost the last two games in this series, but former Iowa catcher Alex Dvorsky transferred to UNI in this last off-season. Wednesday will be the first time he will face his former team. Much like Mattiace, Jansen, and Carlson, Dvorsky was a three-year starter in his first three years on campus in Iowa City.
After the non-conference tests, Michigan State will provide another conference challenge as the Spartans are 9-6 in league play, and an impressive 26-9 on the season. Unlike Purdue, MSU has found success through their offense. The Spartans have scored almost twice as many runs as their opposition, and have hit 63 homeruns to 22 from the opposition. Six MSU hitters have 20 or more RBIs, and seven hitters are hitting better than .300. Chris McCuiston leads the hitting attack as he is hitting .382 with 12 HRs and 49 RBIs. Rob Malek is hitting .429 with 8 HRs and 37 RBIs. The MSU pitching staff is led by three consistent starters. Nick Bates is 8-1 with a 2.72 ERA, Bryan Gale is 5-2 with a 4.20 ERA, while Tim Day is 6-2 with a 4.31 ERA.
As daunting as the task is, Iowa needs to find a way to at least split the weekend series with MSU. As long as they can stay within earshot of .500 in conference play, they have a chance to make up ground over the next few weeks. "Halfway through, the whole league is wide open," according to Broghamer. "If we can play well and play our best baseball of the season, we can really make a move. But about nine teams can say the same thing. We've got a shot, and our pitchers and defense need to keep this going and perform again this weekend."