IOWA CITY | It has been a whirlwind week for the Iowa baseball team as it won its first Big Ten Tournament title and now prepares to begin regional play on Friday. For the Hawkeyes – especially Siouxlanders Tyler Cropley and Robert Neustrom – it has been hard to soak in the accomplishment.
Of course, they are getting a little help.
“We have been watching the games on TV because they have been replaying it just about every time I turn on Big Ten Network,” said Cropley, who hit a solo home run in the 13th inning against Minnesota to send Iowa to the championship game. “I have seen (the home run) a few times on Twitter and people will send it to me through text message and say ‘congrats.’
“It didn’t even hit me at the time that it was going to go out, thought it was going to go foul. Watching it again and knowing it is going to stay fair, can’t help but watch it with a smile on my face.”
What Iowa does know is it is headed to Houston Regional to face the Cougars who have a 40-19 record. The game is set for 7 p.m. Friday on ESPNU. Baylor and Texas A&M round out the four-team pod in the regional.
“With all those Texas teams I think they are going to overlook this Iowa team and maybe underestimate us a little bit,” Cropley said. “We have some guys in the lineup that can do some damage real quick and with guys on base anything can happen.”
For Cropley, a 5-foot-11 junior catcher and a three-time all-state selection for Bishop Heelan, his first season at Iowa saw him come up clutch on several occasions. He hit .403 in the second of two years at Iowa Western Community College before putting together a strong first season in Iowa City. He hit .269 with nine home runs while starting 56 games.
“It is everything I dreamed of,” he said. “The coaching staff, to the guys that are on the team, the fans at the games, the atmosphere at the games.
Neustrom, a 6-3 sophomore outfielder who was named the Iowa Gatorade Player of the Year as a senior, hit .313 with 76 hits and nine home runs this season for the 38-20 squad.
“I want to go in swinging the bat hot because the Big Ten Tournament I didn’t have the best batting line, but I hit a lot of balls hard right at people,” he said. “That is baseball sometimes.”
The Hawkeyes had just three regional trips before Coach Rick Heller took over in 2013. Now the Hawkeyes are going back for the second time in three years. Iowa nearly made it last year as well before dropping the Big Ten tourney title to Ohio State.
"It is pretty special,” Neustrom said. “Last year was pretty heartbreaking and to come back and win it all this year was a really special experience.
“To me it is just not giving up and playing the game right and just be you on the field.”
This season Iowa posted victories over fourth-seeded Maryland, No. 1 Nebraska, No. 3 Minnesota and No. 7 Northwestern at the conference tourney to become one of five Big Ten teams to reach regionals.
“We all just kind of know what time it is and we don’t really take it any differently,” said Neustrom of the postseason success. “We just take it like another game because we have been playing like that all year. We have had some come-from-behind victories and stuff like that so we try not to make moments too big or too small.”
Now Cropley and Neustrom – who have been nicknamed the “Sioux Crew” -- have the chance to put together another impressive tournament run and reach the College World Series – a place that is hardly foreign with both growing up so close to Omaha.
“I used to go to it a lot in high school, make two or three trips a year,” Neustrom said. “Everyone is so excited about it. Fans come from all over the country and it is a real cool experience.”
“I don’t think there has been a year when I haven’t gone at least once, maybe twice or three times,” Cropley said. “It is all about baseball. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you are from they just want to see good baseball.”
It is something the two ballplayers have talked about for years going back to their days playing together with the Siouxland Stars growing up before battling each other in high school.
“It is really cool just to have someone you played with growing up on your same college team,” Neustrom said. “I am sure we said something like (making the College World Series) back in the day, but it can happen and life is crazy like that sometimes.”