(Courtesy Iowa Athletics)
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.”