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Rick Heller recaps a huge series-clinching win over Oklahoma State.
Dargan Southard, msouthard@gannett.com

With perhaps its season on the line, the Iowa baseball team went to a rarely used tactic to pull out a key game.

Mitchell Boe scored the go-ahead run in the top of the ninth inning by stealing home, providing the Hawkeyes with a much-needed 5-4 win Tuesday afternoon at Western Illinois.

With two outs and the bases loaded in the ninth, Boe crept to a large lead with left-handed pitcher Pete Minella on the mound … then after the catcher’s return throw, he bolted home safely, a bold move that put Iowa ahead. It was only Boe’s fifth stolen base of the season on eight attempts.

The day’s dramatic moments weren’t done, though.

With two Leathernecks on base and one out in the bottom of the ninth inning, Nick Nelson relieved Zach Daniels. On a 3-2 pitch, Dillon Sears hit a line drive to left field, where Ben Norman made a diving catch. He then threw to second base to double off the straying runner and end the game.

While Western Illinois (which entered with an NCAA RPI of 278 out of 297 Division I teams) wasn’t a monster opponent, losing to the Leathernecks would have been a major stain on Iowa’s already staggering NCAA resume. The Hawkeyes (now 30-18 overall, with a 64 RPI) finish their regular season with a three-game home series against last-in-the-Big-Ten Penn State — all night games, Thursday through Saturday at Banks Field in Iowa City.

This is all must-win turf for Iowa, which dropped two of three games over the weekend against woeful Northwestern do damage its NCAA at-large chances.

But the Hawkeyes got it done Tuesday, even after trailing 4-0 through four innings.

Tyler Cropley’s two-out, two-run double in the fifth brought the Hawkeyes within 4-3. Justin Jenkins’ RBI single in the sixth tied it up. Grant Leonard’s six scoreless innings of relief kept Iowa in it.

And that all set the stage for Boe’s speedy heroics in the ninth.

“It was great to get the win; the guys fought and scraped back after we fell behind and found a way to score some runs,” coach Rick Heller said. “The big story today is Grant Leonard going six innings with six punch-outs, and no walks. He really stabilized the game.”