Hawkeyes Holds Off Late State Rally 7-6

Had they played an entire game as they did the final four innings, Mississippi State would be looking to score a winning weekend on Sunday. Instead the Bulldogs dug themselves into a deeper hole than a late surge could offset, and it was Iowa celebrating a 7-6 victory. But it was as close as a called strikeout to end the ninth inning at 12:18 in the morning, with the tying runner two bases away.

Iowa closer Kevin Lee survived a three-run rally by getting CF Jaron Shepherd to watch a 2-2 fastball hit the corner and leave a pair of Bulldogs on bases. Lee had given up all three scores with two outs in the final frame as Mississippi State tried to come all the way back from a 7-0 deficit midway of the sixth inning. The strikeout of Shepherd, ironically responsible for MSU's first RBI back in the sixth, lifted the Hawkeyes to 3-5 with a pair of weekend wins over State.

The Bulldogs fell to 9-3, after defeating Georgia State 8-1 in an earlier game. Not much earlier, as it had started at 6:10 after a pair of rain delays. But in MSU math a split Saturday was still not quite breaking even, particularly with how the Dogs opened the evening affair.

"We made a lot of mistakes," Coach John Cohen said. "But we gave ourselves a chance to win in the end which I guess is the most positive thing."

There was little to the plus-side in the first five innings. Iowa knocked out a quick three runs in their first turn, aided by Bulldog fielding gaffes; and extended the lead with sole runs in four-straight innings. All came on lackluster lefthanded pitching as starter Tim Statz and reliever Chad Girodo were rattled for nine of the 12 Hawkeye hits and all seven scores.

"We're still searching for that extra starter and we're not really getting what we're wanting just yet from Statz or Girodo," said Cohen. "We think one of those guys can get it done. But we didn't help ourselves, we made more mistakes than we made in maybe the whole year combined." State committed three errors, all leading to Iowa runs.

Statz (0-1) lasted two-plus innings in taking the loss, with four runs on five hits and a couple of strikeouts. Iowa opener Nick Brown (1-0) had a much more effective outing, going 7.0 complete with three runs on six hits, five strikeouts and three walks.

Things were rough from the start for Statz as the top of the order led off with singles and a bunt by Mike McQuillan was mishandled by the pitcher for loaded bases. Statz wild-pitched in the first run, and a one-hopper by Tyson Blaser ate up 2B Sam Frost for a 3-0 lead. A leadoff double in the second did no damage as with a runner on third Iowa tried to squeeze him across; Statz fielded this one and glove-flipped for the tag.

However when he hit the first two up in the third the change had to be made with Girodo summoned. Only, he threw a pickoff try that got into centerfield to advance Blaser to third; and when Bryan Niedbalski grounded it back to the pitcher Girodo inexplicably passed on a play at the plate for an out at first. It got worse in the Iowa fourth as with runners again on those corners and two outs the Hawkeyes pulled off the double-steal, Trevor Willis coming home ahead of Girodo's late throw after the pitcher had looked at first first.

All this while Brown had State's number, though he did have to strand a pair in the opening inning who reached on an error and walk. Both were bunted into scoring positions and stayed there as Brown got a called strikeout and fly-out. He sat the next six before 3B Jarrod Parks got his team's first base hit with a leadoff single in the fourth.

A two-out plunking and walk even loaded the bases. That only led to further frustration though as C Wes Thigpen swung on the first pitch and popped out to the shortstop. By contrast Iowa got a two-out hit from the bottom of their order scoring Andrew Host from second for a 6-0 margin. Girodo loaded up the bases and got a mound visit, before coaxing a line-out to center.

But a leadoff double in the Iowa sixth was enough to get a righthander on the hill. Victor Diaz's first pitch was squirted up the middle for the RBI, and by the time Willis came up again the bags were packed and two outs. Yet Diaz managed to out the Hawkeye hitter for the first time with a called strikeout, and roll through the seventh as well with a line of two hits, two walks, and two strikeouts.

Down 7-0 the Bulldogs finally got to Brown in the sixth with four hits, though the first one erased itself when Parks rounded second too far on a 1B Ryan Collins safety, slipped getting back to the bag and was thrown out. "Jarrod was really going hard and lost his footing, I know it's disappointing for him," Cohen said. SS Jonathan Ogden was nicked for a free base, then Shepherd and Thigpen delivered consecutive base hits for RBI.

Frost also stroked it well to left-centerfield but Chett Zeise ran it down in the gap to stop any real rally. State did knock another run off the deficit in their seventh as RF C.T. Bradford dropped a one-out triple in rightfield. Parks plated him on an infield hit.

Freshman infielder Taylor Stark made his pitching debut for the eighth, and was welcomed with a single but shrugged that off with a couple of strikeouts. He also got a strikeout/throwout double-play to end his ninth, and in the initial appearance had four Ks to his credit. "He's an exciting guy, a one- or two-inning guy who is going to run it up there with some velocity," Cohen said. "It's a good opportunity for him and we're finding out a lot about our pitching staff."

Iowa also changed moundsmen with Patrick Lala taking over to retire the eighth-inning side. An opening walk of Frost though resulted in Friday night closer Lee taking the ball. 2B Nick Vickerson singled and with two outs DH Cody Freeman scored Frost. Collins followed suit as did Ogden with their own base hits to cut the margin to one. Lee was able to get ahead of Shepherd though and finish it off.

"We really put together some good ABs, even our last nine outs most of them were hard contact," said Cohen, obviously excepting the last called K. Still after being shut out five times there was some encouragement in putting together the late charge. State mustered ten total hits, two each for Parks and Collins with Bradford's three-bagger the only extra base knock.

But the Hawkeyes again got a big night from the top of their order, with leadoff man Willis going 4-of-5 and scoring twice. Third batter McQuillan was 2-of-5. Not only that but Iowa slapped the ball with authority for a second game against State pitching, belying their early-season averages.

"Coming in Iowa was hitting less than .200, and they didn't swing it great against Georgia State (on Friday) either," Cohen said. "I don't know what we're doing to help their bats but we're doing something. They're a good, competitive team and are going to win a lot of games in the Big Ten."

By the same token these two losses did little to give the Bulldogs offensive confidence for their own upcoming conference campaign. And, for how the back half of the pitching rotation has looked lately. Though Cohen was able to enjoy the second half, "Our kids just didn't have the energy and enthusiasm t he first couple of innings that we had the first game. Maybe part of it is my fault. But we didn't pitch it, we didn't defend it, and we didn't have competitive at-bats."

The Bulldogs wrap up this weekend with a 2:30 rematch against Georgia State, which also plays Iowa in an earlier game. State will start Evan Mitchell against the Panthers.

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