Third time's the charm for Iowa baseball against Penn State
Iowa head coach Jack Dahm said early last week that he hoped reliever Taylor Kaufman would step up to be the "bridge" guy between Iowa's starting pitcher and closer Nick Brown in tight games.
Kaufman delivered in a 4-2 Hawkeye victory over Penn State on Sunday.
The left-hander took the mound to face Nittany Lion first baseman Jordan Steranka with one out and a runner on second base in the top of the eighth. Kaufman faced only one batter, but it was arguably the biggest at-bat of the game.
The left-handed-hitting Steranka had beaten Iowa's pitching all day; he was 3-for-3 with a home run against Hawkeye starter Sasha Kuebel. Steranka entered the game with a Big Ten-best .592 slugging percentage, and he was tied for second in the conference with 7 home runs.
None of that intimidated Kaufman, though, who induced a ground ball to second base to retire the Nittany Lion power threat.
"With a base open right there, it was just throwing him some of my dirtiest stuff," Kaufman said. "Just throw curve balls — don't let him get anything good over the plate. Just throw curve balls low and away, hopefully get him to chase something, and that's what he did."
Sunday's win for Iowa helped the Hawkeyes (16-19, 5-7 Big Ten) avoid a weekend sweep at the hands of Penn State (18-21, 6-6). The team did so by receiving its third-straight starting pitching performance that lasted at least seven innings.
The difference this time, though, was the Iowa offense. Jake Yacinich roped a double over first base and down the right-field line to score Mike McQuillan in the first inning. Phil Keppler was involved in the Hawkeyes' other two scoring plays in the first — the senior doubled home Yacinich and later scored on a passed ball to give the Black and Gold an early 3-0 lead.
"[Saturday] was a tough day," McQuillan said, referring to Iowa being on the wrong end of a no-hitter. "The focus today was to punch them in the face in the first inning."
Kuebel gave 2 runs right back to the Nittany Lions in the second frame; Steranka led off with a solo blast that landed well beyond the right-field fence.
The freshman ran into a more problems two innings later but was able to pitch his way out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam.
Kuebel settled down after that, retiring nine of the 10 batters he faced from the fifth to the eighth.
The St. Louis native held Penn State's offense to a 4-for-24 day at the plate, outside of Steranka.
"I don't know what was going on, but I felt a lot better after the fourth inning," he said. "I started to control my changeup a little bit better, and everything started to feel better."
Both Kuebel and Dahm praised the team's offense for coming out early and putting runs up on the scoreboard in the first inning.
"We talked about jumping on them early," Dahm said. "We didn't tell [the players] how important it was, but as coaches, we knew we needed to get something done early on."
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