Iowa baseball team splits Saturday doubleheader, wins three-game series against Penn State

The Hawkeyes went 2-1 on the weekend to improve to 21-14 this season.


Jerod Ringwald

Iowa shortstop Brendan Sher runs to third after a ball gets past Penn State third basemen Justin Williams during a baseball game between Iowa and Penn State on Friday, May 7, 2021 at Duane Banks Field. The Hawkeyes defeated the Nittany Lions 4-2.

Robert Read, Pregame Editor

The Iowa baseball team split its Saturday doubleheader against Penn State at a rainy Duane Banks Field to take two out of three games from the Nittany Lions this weekend and win the series.

After a 4-2 Hawkeye victory Friday afternoon, Iowa won game one on Saturday, 5-3, before dropping game two, 5-4. Iowa scored four runs in the final two innings of the third game of the weekend. But the team’s rally was cut short when shortstop Brendan Sher — the tying run — was thrown out at home for the final out of the series finale.

“It was great to get the series win against Penn State,” head coach Rick Heller said. “They came in hot and you can see why. They ran as good as arms as we’ve seen – 1-2-3 starters and quality bullpen guys.

“You’d like to get three and we’re right there at the end and you have a chance, but it is good to win the series. It’s tough right now because you’re sitting here, and you have a chance to tie the game and their outfielder makes a great play with a wet ball and makes a perfect throw and throws us out at the plate.” 

The Hawkeyes (21-14 overall) have won six of their last seven series and 17 of their last 21 games heading into their final home series of the season. The Nittany Lions exit the weekend with a record of 13-20.

Penn State loaded the bases in the top of the first inning of the first end of Saturday’s doubleheader, but Iowa starting pitcher Duncan Davitt avoided any damage.

Iowa scored three runs in the bottom of the second after redshirt junior Trenton Wallace and redshirt senior Matthew Sosa led off the inning with back-to-back walks and redshirt junior Dylan Nedved loaded the bases after Penn State’s first baseman couldn’t field his sacrifice bunt.

With the bases full, redshirt sophomore Brendan Sher and redshirt senior Ben Norman delivered two straight singles to give the Hawkeyes a 2-0 lead. Iowa scored its third run of the inning on a double play.

Davitt went five innings on the mound, allowing six hits and one earned run.

“I was trying to throw strikes and get ahead of hitters,” Davitt said. “I got my slider back closer to the middle of the game and was able to get ahead with it. I started hitting them with more off-speed and kept them off balance.”

Iowa added runs in the fifth and sixth innings to lead 5-1. Penn State scored two runs in the top of the eight in Drew Irvine’s third inning of relief.

Redshirt freshman Jacob Henderson relieved Irvine, allowing no runs in one inning of work.

Redshirt senior Grant Leonard needed only 10 pitches to strike out the side in the top of the ninth to earn his first save of the season and 21st of his career. Leonard is only one save away from tying the program’s all-time saves record.

Iowa’s offense was quieted by Penn State starting pitcher Kyle Virbitsky in game two. Virbitsky allowed only two baserunners — a Sher double in the third inning and hit batsmen in the fourth – in six innings of work.

“He was getting ahead of us every batter and we’d grind the at-bat out and get to a 3-2 count and he’d win,” Heller said. “We were 2-for-9 in 3-2 counts against him, but tip your hat. He was hitting his spots and his fastball was explosive and had a lot of life.”

Iowa starter Cam Baumann matched Virbitsky’s eight strikeouts with seven of his own over a career-high 7 1/3 innings of work, but the Nittany Lions scratched across three runs (one earned) against the southpaw.

After a 30-minute lightning delay, Penn State added two runs to lead 5-1 entering the bottom of the eighth inning.

Izaya Fullard’s RBI single in the eighth cut into Penn State’s lead. Two more Hawkeyes scored in the bottom of the ninth before Fullard stepped into the batter’s box again. Fullard laced a single into left field to easily score Brayden Frazier from third, but Sher was thrown out at the plate to end the game.

“I knew our guys weren’t going to go away,” Heller said. “They fought hard and we had a chance. We had the hit that could have tied the game and get thrown out at the plate. It was a tough loss when you fight back like that.”

Iowa continues its homestand next weekend with a three-game series against Illinois. The series-opener is scheduled for 6:05 p.m. Friday at Duane Banks Field.

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