McCleary, Iowa baseball down Northwestern in walk-off fashion

In the bottom of the ninth inning, pinch hitter Brett McCleary poked a three-run home run to right field, propelling the Hawkeyes to a 12-9 win over the Wildcats.

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Jenna Galligan

Iowa catcher Brett McCleary rounds third base during a game against Ontario at Duane Banks Field on Friday, September 13, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Blue Jays 30-6 in 14 innings.

Austin Hanson, Sports Editor


For much of Iowa baseball’s matchup with Northwestern Monday, catcher Brett McCleary sat in the Hawkeyes’ dugout, enjoying a warm and sunny day at Duane Banks Field in Iowa City from the bench.

Then, after eight innings of rest, Hawkeye head coach Rick Heller finally called McCleary’s number. With his teammates Brendan Sher and Ben Norman on base, McCleary stepped into the batter’s box in the bottom of the ninth inning with one out on the scoreboard.

After taking one ball and two strikes, McCleary saw the pitch he had been anticipating since the at-bat began — a slider. McCleary proceeded to take Wildcat right-hander Reed Smith’s slider deep to right field, over the outfield wall, and off a pole that anchors one of Duane Banks Field’s light fixtures to the ground.

McCleary’s three-run, walk-off home run propelled the Hawkeyes to a 12-9 victory and 2-0 series sweep of the Wildcats.

“I was not [aiming for the light fixture],” McCleary said postgame. “I was looking for a slider, like I said. It was kinda up and away, and I knew if I could shoot something that way, it’d have a great chance to score Ben. We had good speed on second, so that was my approach that whole at-bat — just see something up that I could shoot that way.”

“Right before that swing Rick, coach Heller, called me down and just said, you know, ‘Aim for the Tigerhawk,'” McCleary added. “‘Hit something hard that way. Hit something on a line that way.’ That’s what I did, I was just trying to find something out over the plate that I could hit that way, and it seemed to work out.”

According to Heller, McCleary’s walk-off moment almost never happened.

“To pick him, it wasn’t an easy decision because [freshman Michael Seegers], in his last three at-bats, he’s had a hit and he brings speed to the table so if he happened to come around a ball or something, he was probably going to have a chance to beat it out,” Heller said. “But we knew McCleary’s had some big hits for us in that situation. I felt like, with the matchup, with the pitcher he was facing, he was gonna get something, if he was disciplined, he was gonna get something out over the plate, elevated more and likely a breaking ball. He does a really nice job of staying on those and hitting them to right field.”

McCleary is one of three Hawkeye hitters that took at-bats from the No. 3 spot in Heller’s lineup Monday. First baseman Peyton Williams started the game and hit third in Iowa’s lineup. Per Heller, however, Williams sustained an injury during fifth inning that forced him out of the contest.

“He just pulled up when he went into first base,” Heller said. “You know, he fought through the hamstring [injury earlier this season]. We’re thinking this might be a quad. So, I don’t know 100 percent, but I think it’s something to do with his quad. It’s just really unfortunate because, we’ll find a way even if he’s out, it just makes it a lot tougher if he’s not in there, that’s for sure.”

Replacing Williams was pitcher Trenton Wallace, who earned a walk and a single in his two at-bats.

Heller decided to sub Seegers in to pinch run for Wallace in the eighth inning.

McCleary’s home run capped a late Iowa comeback effort that began in frame eight. Heading into the inning, the Hawkeyes trailed the Wildcats, 8-5. Iowa then hung seven runs on Northwestern in just two innings of action.

“I think that’s kinda part of our culture,” outfielder Ben Norman said. “We always kinda have a never-give-up attitude. We just want to be as tough as possible all the time. It kinda comes with experience as well. I mean, we have a lot of older guys, and we know we’re really capable of coming back in games. So, even if we’re down, we know we’re not out.”

Iowa returns to action this Friday to begin its three-game tilt with Indiana at Bart Kaufman Field in Bloomington.

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