Iowa baseball team’s eighth-inning rally pushes Hawkeyes to series-opening victory over Illinois

The Hawkeyes gave up three runs in the top of the eighth inning before scoring three of their own in the bottom of the frame.

Robert Read, Pregame Editor

The Iowa baseball team’s one-run lead quickly turned into a two-run deficit when three Illinois batters scored with two outs in the top of the eighth inning Friday night.

But just as the Fighting Illini seemed to have control of the contest at a rainy Duane Banks Field, the Hawkeyes responded with three runs of their own in the bottom of the frame. Ben Norman’s game-winning, two-out triple closed out Iowa’s rally and had the team back on top, 5-4, in its seventh-consecutive series-opening victory.

“We obviously don’t want to put ourselves in that situation where we’re down, but we know that we have that kind of never-give-up attitude,” Norman said. “I think having that mentality is huge because you’re never out of a game.”

By winning its first game of its final home stand of the season, Iowa improves to 22-14 on the year. Illinois falls to 16-19 after blowing its late lead.

Iowa starting pitcher Trenton Wallace pitched six innings of one-run ball — his only blemish was allowing a solo home run in the top of the fifth — striking out nine and leaving the mound with his team up 2-1 heading into the seventh inning.

Relief pitcher Trace Hoffman pitched a scoreless seventh inning out of the bullpen. But in the eight, the right-hander walked two Illinois batters with two outs, and Iowa coach Rick Heller brought in Dylan Nedved out of the bullpen.

After Nedved took the mound, an Illinois double to the right field gap, followed by a soft single up the middle gave the Illini a short-lived 4-2 lead. Iowa’s morale could have taken a hit after that rough half of an inning. But, just like all of the team’s previous comebacks this season, the Hawkeyes knew they weren’t out of the game.

“I just think it has to be your culture,” said Heller, who recorded his 236th win as Iowa’s coach Friday night, third-most in program history. “You play hard and you don’t look at the scoreboard. You just keep playing. When you truly buy into that, it gives you a chance to come back in those games when it looks like you’re out of it and someone puts a dagger in you. If you just keep playing, it’s tough to get those last three outs.”

To start the bottom of the eight, and with Iowa trailing by two runs, right fielder Zeb Adreon drew a walk. The redshirt senior then came around to score after a Matthew Sosa RBI-double cut Iowa’s deficit to 4-3. After a pitching change, Sosa advanced to third on a failed pickoff attempt.

Still with no outs, Sosa scored and tied the game at four after a towering pop up from Brayden Frazier into shallow left field dropped. Illinois retired the next two Hawkeye hitters, bringing Norman to the plate.

Norman, 0-for-4 to that point in the game, laced a fastball sharply into right field to put Iowa on top. Nedved took the mound again in the ninth inning and recorded a 1-2-3 frame to end the game.

“It was pretty unfortunate there in the eighth inning,” Nedved said. “I had faith that the team would be able to get some runs. As soon as we took the lead back I had full confidence in myself. It was like a flip of the switch. As soon as I get on the mound I’m confident. Anything that puts me down, you just have to get right back up.”

Game two of this weekend’s series is scheduled to begin at 2:05 p.m. at Duane Banks Field. The game will also air on BTN+.

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