By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – The Iowa baseball team overcame another large deficit against a nationally ranked opponent, but this comeback didn’t result in a victory.
No. 12 Oklahoma State bolted to a 7-1 lead after four innings, but didn’t score again while hanging on for a 7-6 victory in the first game of a three-game series at Banks Field.
Iowa turned a potential rout into a nail-biter by scoring five runs in the bottom of the fourth inning.
Senior catcher Tyler Cropley stayed hot at the plate, hitting his ninth home run of the season and driving in three runs. Cropley has hit four home runs in the past three games.
But it still wasn’t enough as Oklahoma State relief pitchers Peyton Battenfield and C.J. Varela combined to allow just one hit over the final five innings.
“I’m proud of the effort, we didn’t give up,” said Iowa coach Rick Heller. “We had an opportunity to lay down against a really good team and we did not. We gave ourselves a real good chance.
“The story tonight was just poor situational hitting. We didn’t execute on offense with an opportunity to move runners and score runners from third with less than two outs.”
Iowa also had an opportunity to record a double play in third inning, but failed to execute.
The Cowboys took advantage by scoring five runs in the inning.
“We made a very crucial mistake in the third inning that would have got us out of it when we dropped s double-play ball and didn’t get the first out,” Heller said. “And it turned into a five spot and we’re out of the inning with one run.
“And there weren’t many mistakes. I think there were only three free bases for us the entire game, which nine times out of ten you win that game. But the mistake on defense was very crucial.”
Iowa fell to 26-16 on the season, while the Cowboys improved to 28-15-1. The Hawkeyes will try to even the series when the teams meet at 2:05 p.m. on Saturday at Banks Field.
Junior pitcher Nick Allgeyer took the loss for Iowa, but with exception to allowing five runs in the third inning, Allgeyer was solid on the mound. He finished with nine strikeouts over six innings and walked just one batter.
“If you want to look at it positively, I didn’t think I pitched poorly tonight,” Allgeyer said. “I had good stuff and I was missing barrels late in the game. That one inning kind of snowballed on me and ended up costing us the game.”
Iowa faced a similar situation against Big Ten leader Michigan last weekend when it fell behind 8-0 before rallying for a victory in a series in which Iowa won two of three games.
So there was no panic when Oklahoma State scored the first six runs in Friday’s game. Instead of folding, the Hawkeyes came storming back and had several opportunities to grab the lead, but failed to get a clutch hit
“It really came down to one or two hits, it really did,” said Iowa junior right fielder Robert Neustrom. “That’s really frustrating. We could have easily been on top. That’s what it feels like.”
Neustrom and senior Chris Whelan both lead Iowa with two hits apiece. Whelan also scored two runs and drove in two runs while making a rare defensive appearance at first base.
“It kind of felt like we let that one slip away definitely,” Whelan said.
The series with Oklahoma State is part of the reward for Iowa becoming relevant under Heller after the program had struggled for more than two decades before he was hired in 2013. Additional seating was added in preparation for this weekend’s series.
Iowa did receive some encouraging news about starting pitcher Cole McDonald, who left his most recent start against Michigan with a sharp pain in his right throwing arm. An MRI revealed no noticeable damage according to Heller and there is a chance McDonald could return before the end of the regular season.
McDonald already has undergone Tommy John surgery, so there was concern that he had suffered the same injury.
“I guess we’re still cautiously optimistic,” Heller said. “We’re going to check it out with ultrasound, double check the MRI on Monday and just go from there. He said it felt a lot better and calmed down later in the week and didn’t really hurt too bad anymore.”
Junior Brady Schanuel is expected to start on the mound for Iowa on Saturday, while freshman Jack Dreyer could get the start on Sunday.
“That’s probably the route we’ll go if we use a bunch of guys tomorrow,” Heller said.