IOWA CITY – Redshirt junior Brett McCleary’s pinch-hit, three-run home run propelled the University of Iowa baseball team to a 12-9 walk-off victory over Northwestern on Monday afternoon at Duane Banks Field. The blast sent the Hawkeyes to their fifth straight series victory.
“The biggest thing I could do there was stay in the present and trust my training to that point,” said McCleary. “It was a big situation so I just wanted to do everything I could to help the team. I knew I had to get my best swing off on the pitch.
“I was looking for the slider and it was up and away. My approach was to see something up. Right before that swing, (head) coach (Rick) Heller called me down and said aim for the Tigerhawk (on the right field wall). That’s what I did.”
The Wildcats took a 9-8 lead in the top of the ninth inning on a Shawn Goosenberg RBI single to right field, but Iowa avoided any further damage when reliever Dylan Nedved struck out David Dunn and got a groundout from Vincent Bianchina to leave the bases loaded and keep the deficit at 9-8.
Iowa’s ninth-inning rally began with a one-out double from Brendan Sher and senior Ben Norman’s RBI single tied the game at nine. After Izaya Fullard singled to put two runners on, Heller went to McCleary as a pinch hitter.
The Iowa City, Iowa, native hit the 1-2 pitch to right field against Wildcat reliever Reed Smith and the ball carried over the fence and hit the light pole for a round tripper to send the Hawkeyes into hysteria. It was McCleary’s second career home run and it capped off a 3-1 weekend to improve the team’s record to 18-11.
“I couldn’t be happier for Brett McCleary,” said Heller. “You’re talking about a guy that is the most unselfish, hard-working, tough player on our team. He doesn’t play all the time, but when he does, he gives you great effort and he has had some clutch hits for us.
“To see him, after all he’s done for us and how humble he is, have a moment like that, means a lot not only to me, but the team.”
The Hawkeyes fell behind 3-0 in the game after Northwestern hit three solo home runs off starter Duncan Davitt in the first two innings. Iowa scored single runs in the second, fourth and fifth innings to tie the game with the third coming off Fullard’s home run to dead center – his second blast of the season.
Davitt pitched six innings in the start, allowing four runs on five hits over six innings. He punched out five in the start.
“The big point I want to make is how fantastic of a start that was for Duncan Davitt,” said Heller. “He gave up four solo home runs, but he didn’t turn it into two walks and a three-run home run. That’s what happens on a day like today that gets you beat and maybe you can’t come back. He pitched, he gave up a home run then he attacked guys and they hit good pitches. He didn’t let it affect the next pitch.”
Northwestern regained the lead in the sixth off Stephen Hrustich’s second homer of the day, but Iowa put up two runs in the bottom half on a Norman sacrifice fly and a Fullard double to take a 5-4 lead – its first of the game.
The advantage was short-lived as Northwestern put up a four-spot in the seventh to regain the lead, 8-5. The Wildcats had three hits in the inning, including a Leo Kaplan triple and a Goosenberg home run off Trace Hoffman.
Iowa tied the game with a three-run eighth. Trenton Wallace, Austin Martin and Frazier all tallied RBIs in the inning, but the Hawkeyes left two stranded when Nedved lined out to centerfield to end the inning.
QUOTING HEAD COACH RICK HELLER
“It makes you proud when you have a team that keeps fighting and doesn’t quit no matter what the situation is. There is so much truth to the fact that if you keep playing and don’t look at the scoreboard and not focus on past results, that the game will come back to you. We had guys that stepped up late in that game that had bad at-bats.
“Marty (Sutherland) was telling them you have to keep playing. You’re going to get an opportunity later and you have to be ready when you do.”
It was the Hawkeyes’ 17th walk-off victory at Duane Banks Field since the start of 2015. It was the team’s first at home since beating Milwaukee, 5-4, on April 23, 2019.
Iowa overcame three deficits in the game before taking the lead for good in the ninth. The Hawkeyes have overcome deficits to win eight games this season.
Senior Zeb Adreon finished 2-for-2 with a triple, two walks and a hit by pitch. He has reached safely in his last 10 plate appearances dating back to game two against Maryland on April 24.
Adreon tripled for the second straight game, making him the first Hawkeye to accomplish the feat since Norman in 2018.
Iowa had 12 hits in the game with seven coming in the final two innings. Four Hawkeyes – Fullard (3-for-6) Martin (3-for-5), Adreon (2-for-2), and Sher (2-for-2) had multi-hit games.
The Hawkeyes head to Bloomington, Indiana, for a three-game series at Indiana from April 30-May 2 at Bart Kaufman Field. The Hoosiers are 18-8 overall and sit in second place in the Big Ten standings. Friday’s series opener begins at 4 p.m. (CT).