IOWA CITY – A three-run first inning provided the early offense the 17th-ranked University of Iowa baseball team needed to defeat 25th-ranked Nebraska, 4-3, on Saturday afternoon at Duane Banks Field.
The win pushes the Hawkeyes’ record to 28-11 overall and 11-2 in Big Ten play, while the Cornhuskers fall to 30-14, 6-7.
Iowa’s offensive attack ignited in the bottom of the first with a two-out Nebraska error. With senior Kris Goodman at first, senior Dan Potempa singled to put runners on the corners before junior John Barrett drew a walk to load the bases.
Junior Nick Roscetti put Iowa in front 2-0 with a two-out single through the left side, and junior Jimmy Frankos followed with a first-pitch RBI single to centerfield, pushing the Iowa lead to 3-0.
“It was nice for us to score early, especially with two outs,” said UI head coach Rick Heller. “It was big for us to get three hits in the first inning off (Nebraska starter Chance) Sinclair and take advantage of their defensive mistakes. It ultimately allowed us to take a deep breathe, relax, and go out and play while Blake (Hickman) pitched.
Junior pitcher Blake Hickman notched his fifth straight win and seventh overall, tossing 5 2/3 innings of three-hit work. Hickman (7-1) was dominant through five innings of scoreless ball before the Cornhusker bats broke through in the sixth.
Nebraska center fielder Ryan Boldt opened the frame with a leadoff single through the right side to set up a two-run opposite field blast from designated hitter Ben Miller, narrowing the visitor’s deficit to 3-2.
After Sinclair cruised, limiting Iowa to two hits from the second through sixth innings, Iowa plated an insurance run in the seventh, extending its lead to 4-2. Redshirt junior Taylor Kaufman reached on a single through the right side and scored on a two-out RBI single from senior Jake Mangler — the second baseman’s team-leading 29th RBI of the season.
“We knew it was going to be a tight game and every run would matter,” said Heller.” The run in the seventh was a big one for us and won the game.”
Junior Ryan Erickson relieved Hickman in the sixth inning with two down. Erickson went 2 1/3 innings and surrendered one run on three hits. Junior Luke Vandermaten entered in the ninth with two aboard and no outs, and was the beneficiary of some outstanding defense to notch his third save of the season.
“I’m proud of the way our pitchers attacked today,” said Heller. “They went after them when the call didn’t go their way and didn’t let it snowball into a crooked number.
“I had a lot of confidence in Luke. I felt confident that he would hang in there make them earn anything they were going to get at the plate.”
Nebraska plated one run and it could have been more in the ninth. With runners at first and second, senior Eric Toole recorded the first out on a diving catch to rob Jake Schleppenbach of a bloop single, and junior Joel Booker ran a mile before laying out in the right centerfield gap to rob Miller of extra bases for out No. 2.
With runners on the corners, the Huskers rolled the dice and executed a hit-and-run with Tanner Lubach at the plate to cut the lead to 4-3, and a four-pitch walk to Blake Headley loaded the bases. Vandermaten got out of the jam by getting Austin Darby to ground out to Roscetti, who got the force out at second base to end the game.
Games two and three of the weekend series will be contested Sunday in a doubleheader beginning at 12 p.m. (CT).