Iowa baseball sneaks by Western Illinois

Iowa baseball picked up another home win on the season, with red-hot Brendan Sher racking up three more hits for the Hawkeyes.

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Iowa baseball sneaks by Western Illinois

Iowa infielder Chris Whelan hits the ball at a baseball game against Northwestern Illinois at Duane Banks Field on May 1, 2019.

Iowa infielder Chris Whelan hits the ball at a baseball game against Northwestern Illinois at Duane Banks Field on May 1, 2019.

Michael Guhin

Iowa infielder Chris Whelan hits the ball at a baseball game against Northwestern Illinois at Duane Banks Field on May 1, 2019.

Michael Guhin

Michael Guhin

Iowa infielder Chris Whelan hits the ball at a baseball game against Northwestern Illinois at Duane Banks Field on May 1, 2019.

Robert Read, Sports Reporter

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Iowa baseball welcomed the Western Illinois to Duane Banks field Wednesday night in a mid-week matchup, the first game in May for the squad.

Western Illinois came into Iowa City with a record of 16-25 and riding a two-game losing streak.

Freshman Clayton Nettleton took the mound for only the second start of his Iowa career.

Western Illinois picked up an early run off of the young Nettleton while he was still trying to settle in, capitalizing on a series of mistakes. An errant pick-off throw, a wild pitch, and a pair of singles to drove in the first run.

Nettleton avoided additional damage in the first, as catcher Austin Martin threw out Western Illinois’ Deion Thompson, who was attempting to take second base. Thompson had a 90 percent success rate stealing on the season, before being hosed by Martin in the contest

Nettleton then struck out Alex Dorethy to limit the damage to 1 run in the first.

Reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Week Brendan Sher sparked Iowa’s offense early despite the team facing an early deficit. In the bottom of the second, Sher hit a triple to right-center field on the first pitch he saw. Sher stayed hot after having two multi-hit games last week, on his way to the weekly conference honor.

“I’m feeling comfortable in the box,” Sher said. “Coaches are feeling comfortable, my teammates are feeling comfortable with me, which always helps. The big thing is, I’m just trying to have fun right now, which is easy with this group of guys.”

Lorenzo Elion drove Sher in on a fielder’s choice to second base to put the first run of the game on the board for Iowa.

Sher picked up his second hit of the night in the bottom of the fourth on a hard-hit single up the middle that moved Ben Norman to second base, after he previously reached base on a hit-by-pitch.

The pitching started to settle in for Iowa after that shaky start. From the fourth inning to the sixth, the Leathernecks would not score with Duncan Davitt on the mound.

“He looked great tonight,” Iowa head coach Rick Heller said of Duncan. “We really needed him at that point in the game. We started out sloppy with free bases all over the place, fell behind. Then Duncan came in and settled things down, had great stuff and controlled the zone with his off-speed. It was really a dominant performance for Duncan.”

The Iowa lead was extended on a double from Elion that drove in Wetrich. It was Elion’s third RBI of the night, and this run was not contested at the plate as the Western Illinois had more issues in the outfield.

“I just kept coming up in good situations,” Elion said. “I was just trying to be what coach [Heller] talks about, be unselfish and drive in some runs however possible.”

Whelan picked up his third hit of the night in the next at-bat and drive Elion in, and Grant Judkins later hit a sacrifice fly to drive in the third run of the inning and extend the Iowa lead to five runs.

Western Illinois added a pair of runs in the seventh, and things got dramatic in the top of the ninth. Iowa closer Grant Leonard, the seventh Iowa pitcher of the game, came in with a save opportunity in an 8-5 game. He proceeded to allow three base runners before recording an out.

Two Leathernecks went on to score before Leonard picked up the final out of the game. The two runs given up by Leonard ended a streak of 12 games in which he had not given up a run.

The Hawkeyes will take the win, however, as they snuck by Western Illinois 8-7 to bump its regular season win total to 27.

Iowa will next take the field Friday in game one of a pivotal weekend series against No. 25 UC Irvine. First pitch is scheduled for 6:05 p.m.

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