By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – The Iowa baseball team overcame a talented Ohio State squad on Sunday, and of course, the weather, to win its second consecutive Big Ten series.
Grant Judkins smacked a double in the bottom of the eighth inning to drive in Kyle Crowl with the game-winning run as Iowa prevailed 2-1 at a snowy Banks Field.
Judkins came through just in time because the snow started to fall pretty hard moments after the game had ended.
Iowa won two of the three games in the series and improved to 19-10 overall and 5-3 in conference play, while Ohio State fell to 20-10 and 3-3.
“If it was a suspended game we would have had to try and play tomorrow,” said Iowa coach Rick Heller. “They (Ohio State) were here since we set the series up for Saturday, Sunday and Monday. So that’s what would have had to happen.
“So in the nick of time.”
The Big Ten plays its three-game series from Friday through Sunday when the weather cooperates, which so far this season has been rare.
The series with Ohio State was pushed back one day with a doubleheader on Saturday due to cold temperatures, and all three of Iowa’s Big Ten series this season have been impacted by the weather.
The first series against Indiana was called after two games, and with it tied 1-1, because the wintry-like weather conditions made it impossible to play a third game at Banks Field.
Iowa also had to overcome chilly conditions while winning two of three games at Illinois last weekend.
The effects of winter will eventually fade with warmer weather expected for later in the week.
But that won’t change what already has happened.
Iowa has played more than one-third of its conference schedule in weather that has mostly been unacceptable by baseball standards.
Baseball isn’t meant to be played in March or in early April in the Midwest because the weather so often doesn’t cooperate.
College baseball players invest so much time and energy throughout the year and it’s not fair that so many of the games in the Midwest and northern states are adversely affected by the weather.
One way to fix the problem would be to move the start of the season back at least one month, but the southern schools strongly oppose that idea because they would have nothing to gain from it.
“You don’t make excuses because it is what it is,” Heller said. “At my age, in 31 years of playing in it, to me, it’s why are we playing in it? We should be playing in the summer at this point in time. Three quarters of the country is dealing with this, and have and do every other year, or every third year or fourth year, I would like at some time in my career to be able to start the season in May and play through the summer, and we would've had five or six or seven-thousand people here to this game today.
“It would be a different world. But until that changes, we’re going to have to deal with days like today. That’s just the way it is.”
Asked if he thinks it’ll change while he still is coaching, the 54-year old Heller seemed somewhat optimistic.
“I still hold hope, I do,” Heller said. “I hold hope that it can happen. I don’t know, though. It’s just tough because you have to get so many people on board to make that happen.”
Heller believes that most of the people associated with college baseball, even those in the south, think the game would benefit by having the season start later.
“I think a lot of the guys down there (in the south) see that it is a positive for the game for everyone,” Heller said. “But, obviously, when you have advantages, it’s tough to give them up.”
Iowa is coming off the most successful four-year stretch in program history under Heller, which included winning last year’s Big Ten Tournament.
The Big Ten Conference as a whole has become deeper and stronger in baseball, and Heller thinks that could help to push the start of the season back because the conference could have more influence.
“As it improves, and with us being in the power five, we have to probably lead the charge, and hopefully, some day that will happen where we can get some others on board,” Heller said. “Maybe the Big 12 will be on board, which I heard a rumor that they did a straw vote, this was a few years ago, and only one team in the Big 12 voted against it.
“Because you think about it, it’s not great here, but it’s not great even down into Arkansas, Tennessee. I mean Kentucky had snow yesterday. This is the whole country for this time of year.”
As for Sunday’s game, Heller was just relieved to have beaten the weather and to have taken advantage of Cole McDonald’s performance on the mound. The junior scattered three hits over six innings and had eight strikeouts.
Zach Daniels then pitched the final three innings in relief and allowed just one hit while improving his record to 4-1 on the season.
“When you get a quality start and you don’t get it done, it kind of hurts double,” Heller said. “
McDonald has pitched in more than his share of bad weather this season, so Sunday's conditions weren't that big of a deal to him.
“Honestly, it feels like I’m almost used to it the way we’ve been playing in some cold weather lately,” McDonald said. “So you just kind of figure out how you want to warm up and get a good sweat going. I was nice and loose.”