For Iowa pitcher Calvin Mathews, one inning and just a few inches made all the difference against hard-hitting Indiana on Saturday.
Mathews surrendered all five of his runs in the third inning as Indiana smacked back-to-back-to-back home runs and then hung on to defeat the Hawkeyes 6-3 before an announced crowd of 782 at Duane Banks Field.
“Obviously, you saw today a ball that’s elevated two or three inches, you saw how far it could go rather than just a weak ground ball to second base,” Mathews said.
Mathews survived a bases-loaded jam in the first inning and then cruised through the second inning before Indiana unleashed its power in the third.
Catcher Kyle Schwarber triggered the rally with a mammoth two-run homer to dead center field that sailed an estimated 410 feet. Mathews tried to slip an off-speed by Schwarber, but Schwarber wasn’t fooled.
First baseman Sam Travis then smacked a solo blast on the next pitch, expanding the lead to 3-0. Mathews finally escaped from the inning by getting center fielder Tim O’Conner to strike out swinging for the third out.
“Going into the third, I felt fine, I felt good,” said Mathews, whose record fell to 3-2. “I hadn’t thrown a lot of off-speed (pitches) before that inning. It was mostly just all fastballs. And then Schwarber comes up, I throw him a change-up and he obviously knew it was coming. He sat back on it.
“But they’re probably the best hitting team that we’re going to face all year, too. So I’ve just got to get better on my off-speed pitches and keep improving every day.”
Indiana improved to 16-10 overall and 6-1 in the Big Ten, while Iowa fell to 16-10 and 3-4 in the conference. The teams will resume their three-game series with single games Sunday and Monday.
The series was supposed to start Friday, but that game was pushed back to Saturday because of adverse weather conditions.
Mathews held the defending Big Ten-champion Hoosiers scoreless in his other five innings before giving way to reliever Nick Hibbing in the seventh inning. Mathews hadn’t allowed more than three earned runs in a game this season until Saturday.
But even in defeat, Mathews, a sophomore from Bloomfield, earned praised from his coach for lasting as long as he did on the mound.
“We knew going into it, if you elevated it against these guys, especially on a day like today, a nice day to hit with the wind blowing out, they can really hurt you,” first-year Iowa coach Rick Heller said of Indiana, which played in the College World Series last season. “But also I’m really proud of Calvin because he didn’t really have his good stuff today. He didn’t have good command of his secondary stuff. He was struggling to find his change-up pretty much all day. His breaking ball was fairly flat today. He didn’t even have great command of his fastball today.
“But he didn’t give up in that inning. He fought and gave us a couple more so we didn’t have to extinguish the bullpen (in the first game of the series), which is really crucial. He went out and battled for us.”
Iowa scored three runs in the bottom of the fifth inning off Indiana ace Joey DeNato, trimming the lead to 5-3.
Former Solon standout Nick Day, who plays third base, started the rally with a single between third base and shortstop. He advanced to third base on back-to-back singles by center fielder Eric Toole and second baseman Jake Mangler and scored on Jake Yacinich’s ground out to second base. Toole and Mangler then scored on Tyler Peyton’s single to left center field.
Indiana added an insurance run in the seventh inning when Travis hit his second solo homer of the game, this one coming off Hibbing.
Iowa threatened on numerous occasions, but failed to score in every inning except the three-run third. The Hawkeyes stranded 12 runners on base, including two in five different innings, and all nine of their hits were singles.
“We knew going into this series that we were going to have to score runs,” Heller said. “You’re not going to just completely shut them down. They’re just too good.
“Unfortunately, we had some chances. I was happy that we fought back into the game. We didn’t die after that five-run inning, which a lot teams would have.”
Both teams shined on defense, the only error committed by Indiana shortstop Nick Ramos on a grounder hit by Iowa’s designated hitter Dan Potempa in the seventh inning.
Mangler led Iowa with three hits and he also made a nifty diving catch of a line-drive hit to shallow left field.
“They had that one big inning and a couple big hits in there,” Mangler said of Indiana. “It’s a testament to Calvin for bearing down after that and giving us some more innings and saving our bullpen a little bit.”