Hellerball takes down No. 25 Illinois for series win


Iowa's Justin Jenkins crosses home plate after hitting a home run during Iowa’s doubleheader against number 11 ranked Indiana at Duane Banks Field on Friday March 23, 2018. The Hoosiers won the first game 4-2 and the Hawkeyes won the second game 5-1. (Nick Rohlman/The Daily Iowan)

Prior to hosting Iowa, No. 25 Illinois was one of the country’s hottest teams.

The Illini proved their worth from the season’s start, taking down then-No. 11 UCLA in nonconference play. Entering its matchup with the Hawkeyes, Illinois had won six-straight games.

The anticipation for this weekend’s series was at an all-time high following a nail-biting Hawkeye victory over Bradley on March 28, and Iowa did not disappoint Hawkeye fans.

The Black and Gold cranked out their third-straight series win over Illinois, taking Games No. 1 and 3 from the Illini while dropping the second. Iowa’s series win came on Sunday, when the Hawkeyes came out on top, 4-2, in less-than-desirable cold weather.

“It was a great game, especially with the conditions we had,” head coach Rick Heller said in a release. “There were a couple mistakes late, but Illinois has been hot and swinging the bats well. Cole McDonald held them to 2 and then really settled in and pitched great for us.”

McDonald earned the win (2-1), scattering 5 hits in his 6.1 innings and allowing just 2 runs while notching 6 strikeouts. Overall, Illinois recorded only 8 hits.

Nick Nelsen recorded the save, his first of the season. Heller said Nelsen “was put in a tough spot” — Illinois had the tying run on second in the bottom of the ninth inning, but the senior came through in the clutch.

Illini pitchers Ty Weber and Ryan Thompson kept Robert Neustrom, who entered the weekend hitting .360, at bay, holding him hitless in 5 at-bats.

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The Hawkeyes got some offensive life from the middle of the lineup, with Tyler Cropley, Austin Guzzo, Kyle Crowl, and Tanner Wetrich all recording at least 1 hit. Lorenzo Elion finished 2-for-4 in the back half of Iowa’s order.

Iowa’s loss to Illinois didn’t look close whatsoever entering the ninth inning on March 31. The Hawkeyes were down, 13-5, but 7 runs in the top of the ninth made things interesting.

The Hawkeyes couldn’t send the game into extra innings, however, and the Illini pulled out a 13-12 win.

The teams combined to put on a hitting clinic for the fans in Champaign — they recorded 28 hits. The Illini had a 17-11 advantage in the hitting department, though.

“We didn’t quit … we never felt like we were out of it even though we fell behind early,” Heller said in a release. “Brady [Schanuel] didn’t give us the best start and didn’t have his best stuff. It was a bad day for that to happen. We ended up down 10 runs in the first three innings. I knew our guys wouldn’t stop fighting, and we never felt out of it … We found a way to get close in the end.”

Illinois used a 9-run third to jump out to a steep lead. Schanuel hit the dugout after pitching 2.0 innings; his outing fell apart after he gave up the first 6 Illini runs on 7 hits.

Schanuel tallied 11 strikeouts in his last start, but against Illinois, he only registered 1.

Iowa’s series-opening win featured more defense; the Hawkeyes gave up only 7 hits.

Pitcher Nick Allgeyer gave up 5 runs, but the junior spread them out over 6.1 innings. He struck out 8 batters while giving up the 7 hits.

The Hawkeye offense got the job done.

“I thought our at-bats up and down the lineup were quality,” Heller said in a release. “Neustrom is heating up and Cropley has been good for us all year. We are starting to get the offense going, and it has just taken us a while to get there.”

Neustrom finished 3-for-4 with 3 RBIs, and Cropley recorded 1 hit at his 2 at-bats.

The Hawkeyes now turn their attention to Grand View, which will travel to Banks Field on April 4 for a 6:05 p.m. game.

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