Guzzo’s homer reigns supreme, but pitching, inconsistent hitting, overshadowed.


The Daily Iowan; Photos by Katin

Iowa catcher Austin Guzzo swings at the pitch during men's baseball Iowa vs. Loras at Duane Banks Field on March 21, 2018. The Hawkeyes defeated the Duhawks 6-4. (Katina Zentz/The Daily Iowan) (Katina Zentz/Daily Iowan)

Austin Guzzo stole the show in the bottom of the ninth inning, and rightfully so; his walk-off home run, the first of his career, gave Iowa a 6-4 win over Loras on Wednesday.

What got lost in the late-inning heroics is just how poorly Iowa’s bats performed for the game’s first six innings and just how good Iowa’s one-two punch of pitchers Grant Judkins and Kyle Shimp were on the mound.

While the Duhawk pitchers kept the Hawkeye bats relatively quiet, Judkins and Shimp were wheeling and dealing.

Head coach Rick Heller gave Judkins the starting nod, and he allowed just 1 hit in his 4 innings. The sophomore was on a limited pitch count, and after 55 pitches, his day was done.

“It was good to see Judkins go out there and throw 4 innings for us,” Heller said. “We were hoping for 3, but his pitch count was low enough [that] we felt he could go another one coming off his hamstring.”

Once Judkins exited, Shimp entered, and he pitched 2.2 innings.

Shimp did give up Loras’ first run, but on just a single hit. In the sixth inning, the sophomore struck out the first three batters in quick fashion.

And that was the theme for most of the game – the Banks Field crowd found itself treated with a fast-paced afternoon game, before things slowed down in the seventh and eighth innings, thanks to Judkins and Shimp silencing almost any Duhawk offense imaginable.

But on the flip side, Iowa’s offense proved to be just as ineffective as Loras’ during the first seven innings.

“To have to watch that for seven innings and look like you’re probably going to lose — really, Loras played really well,” Heller said. “They didn’t give us any free bases.”

Robert Neustrom’s solo homer in the bottom of the third put the Hawkeyes on top first, but throw out his bomb, and you’re left with eerily quiet Hawkeye bats, something that dug Iowa into a 4-1 hole at one point.

Heller pointed to the fourth inning, when Iowa had runners on first and second with no outs, as an example of the Hawkeyes’ inability to deliver offensively.

Iowa’s offense has slowly progressed recently, despite the mediocre first few innings on Wednesday.

“We need to stay a little more consistent,” Neustrom said. “There have been games lately — we scored 6 runs against St. Louis and another 6 runs [Wednesday]. That really hadn’t been the case [lately].”

In March, the Hawkeyes scored fewer than 5 runs seven times, but six of those outings came in Iowa’s first seven games of the month. Since then, Iowa’s averaged 6.8 runs in its past five (including the victory against Loras), but it’s still an area of concern.

Defensively, the Duhawks gave up an average of 4.1 runs on 6.8 hits per game prior to Wednesday’s loss. Before Iowa’s bats came alive in the eighth inning, the Hawkeyes were held in check, falling directly in line with those averages.

But after Guzzo went yard, the Hawkeye hit total reached 7 — just barely better than Loras’ average defensively.

“The biggest thing we needed was to show each other that we can come back and fight,” Chris Whelan said. “… A lot of teams probably [would] have packed it in and quit.”

Loras is a smaller school, but the Duhawks aren’t an opponent to take lightly, either, with only three losses in 13 games heading into Banks Field.

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