Sam Hojnar gave Iowa the lead for good with a two-run single in the first inning, but it took a pair of strikeouts by reliever Luke Llewellyn to nail down the Hawkeyes’ 5-4 victory over North Carolina on Friday night in the nightcap of the Terre Haute Regional.
The second-seeded Hawkeyes (43-14) never trailed, taking a 5-1 lead into the ninth. Marcus Morgan (5-2) allowed just one run in a five-inning start and Jack Whitlock followed Morgan with three shutout innings.
“I think Marcus showed his maturity,” said head coach Rick Heller. “Even though there were a couple of baserunners. I didn’t really feel like he was losing it, I felt like he had good stuff and was around the zone. He was throwing competitive pitches. The big thing Marcus was able to do tonight was put zeroes up and get shutdown innings after we scored. It has been a work in progress, but I really like where he is at and the progress he’s made in the last month.”
Iowa turned to Will Christophers to begin the ninth. He walked Johnny Castagnozzi and surrendered a two-run homer to Alberto Osuna. No. 9 batter Colby Wilkerson followed with a single and Mac Horvath drew a one-out walk, ending Christophers’ outing. Llewellyn entered and gave up an RBI double to Jackson Van De Brake, leaving runners on second and third.
Llewellyn struck out Tomas Frick and Hunter Stokely — the Tar Heels’ No. 3 and 4 hitters — to notch his fourth save.
Iowa advances to play top-seeded Indiana State (42-15) on Saturday.
“It’s going to be a good battle. Indiana State is a very good team,” said Heller. “I watched them play today. Their kids play hard and believe in one another and found a way to come back like they did today. Now, it’s both of us going to battle doing everything we can possibly do to win this next game. Both teams will be as prepared as anyone out there. It should be a really good game in a great environment with a lot of people watching.”
No. 3 seed North Carolina (35-23) will play Wright State (39-21) in an elimination game to begin the day.