Hawkeyes are Big Ten champions
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) — Iowa achieved another milestone in the baseball rebuilding project Rick Heller started four years ago.
Drake Robison held Northwestern to one run in seven innings, Jake Adams homered twice, and the Hawkeyes won the Big Ten Tournament for the first time with a 13-4 victory over upstart Northwestern on Sunday.
The fifth-seeded Hawkeyes (38-20) earned the Big Ten’s automatic NCAA bid and will make their second appearance in the national tournament in three years.
The Hawkeyes had two winning seasons from 1997-2013. They’ve had four straight under Heller, an Iowa native and one of five active coaches to lead three Division I programs to an NCAA regional.
“Year 1, we had a group of guys who made a decision that things were going to change,” Heller said. “They set the tone and carried it over to the next year, and those guys took it the next step, the next step, and this group did even more. They finally brought the championship home to Iowa.”
Robison (4-2), a senior used mostly as a reliever, limited seventh-seeded Northwestern to four hits and struck out six in the longest outing of his career. Robison, who sat out last year after transferring from Mississippi, lasted just one inning in his previous start, May 16 against Omaha. Sunday, he struck out the side in the first inning and left in the seventh with a 6-1 lead.
Adams homered in the seventh and eighth innings to increase his total to 27, tied with Morehead State’s Niko Hulsizer for the national lead.
Freshman Matt Gannon (0-4) didn’t make it out of the first inning as Iowa took a 5-0 lead.
“Once we put up five, I basically said I would throw a bunch of strikes and get as many groundballs as possible,” Robison said. “I wanted to go as long in this game as I could.”
Northwestern (27-30) won eight of its last 10 and finished with 12 more wins than a year ago. The Wildcats, who haven’t won a conference baseball title since 1957, were in the tournament final for the first time since 1984.
“Quite a run by these guys,” coach Spencer Allen said. “Iowa is a great team, no doubt about it, and they can swing the bats. They jumped on us early and we didn’t have an answer. I’m not going to say (we) overachieved. That would be cutting them short. They reached their potential.”
For Iowa, the title is its first in baseball since the Hawks won the Big Ten regular-season championship in 1990.
The Hawkeyes made it to the tournament championship game last year, but lost 8-7 to Ohio State. Heller brought back only six seniors, but he added the slugging Adams, a junior-college transfer who planned to go to North Dakota before the Fighting Hawks program was cut for budgetary reasons after last season.
Adams, the Big Ten player of the year, hit .118 through the Hawkeyes’ first four games in Bloomington. He reached base five times against Northwestern, singling twice and walking before going deep on his last two at-bats.
With Adams struggling, sophomore leadoff batter Chris Whelan kept the Hawkeyes’ offense chugging, and he was selected Most Outstanding Player. He homered twice and reached base seven times in the first two games. He doubled and reached three times Saturday in the 7-5, 13-inning win over Minnesota that sent Iowa to the final.
He went 0 for 5 Sunday.
“Lucky enough,” he said, “Jake hit his stride in these last couple games. I try to stick to my plan and put a couple good swings on the baseball and good things happen.”
Adams was 10 for 17 with four home runs in four games against Northwestern this season. He said he wasn’t stressed about his slow start in the tournament.
“A lot of players are going to have slumps here and there, which obviously I had when it really mattered,” he said. “I watched a little film and knew what I was doing (wrong). I got back to my normal self and had myself a day, and everybody behind me hit, and we put up a lot of runs.”