Missouri junior Brian Sharp was coming off the hottest week of his career going into Tuesday’s home opener against Alabama A&M, and the Bulldogs could do nothing to cool off the newly crowned SEC Co-Player of the Week.
Sharp reached base in all four of his plate appearances, tallying three of the Tigers’ five hits and jump starting a fifth inning rally en route to a 7-3 Missouri win.
“Whatever he’s doing, I want the rest of our team to start doing,“ Missouri coach Steve Bieser said. “He’s got that swagger about him right now. When he steps in the box, he feels very confident. You’ve got to ride it while it’s there and there’s nobody that looks better in the box than him right now.”
Freshman Konnor Ash went into his first start of the season with a 6.75 ERA in 1.1 innings of relief, but managed to hold the Bulldogs at bay through two. He gave up a hit and two walks during the first two frames, but the righty managed to escape trouble.
In the third, though, Ash gave up a leadoff bomb to straight center off the bat of A&M’s Tyus O’Neal-El to put the Bulldogs up one. Brandon Moore hit a single up the middle on the very next pitch, but catcher Brett Bond caught Moore stealing before Ash got a ground out and a fly out to get out of the inning.
The damage was done, however, giving A&M a one-run lead for Clayton Warner. The freshman came into the game with a 1-0 record and no runs in six innings, and he continued to look impressive against Mizzou. Through four innings, Clayton Warner gave up just a single to Sharp in the second and a walk to second baseman Mark Vierling in the fourth to keep the Tigers scoreless.
Sharp, in at third base after pitching 4.2 scoreless innings Sunday, led off the bottom of the fifth with a double to right-center. Bond flew out to right, but Warner then gave up back-to-back walks to designated hitter Zach Hanna and shortstop Chris Cornelius to load the bases for left fielder Cade Bormet. The freshman fought his way to a full-count and took ball four to walk in Missouri’s first run. A sac-fly from center fielder Connor Brumfield that scored Hanna and a fly out by Vierling ended the inning, but the Tigers went into the sixth up 2-1.
“We were hitting the ball hard, it’s just nothing was really coming our way,” Sharp said. “We knew eventually we were gonna break out. We just needed to stay positive and keep putting good at-bats together so we could score some runs.”
The break out didn’t end in the fifth, though.
After freshman Ian Bedell — who’d come on in relief in the fourth inning — put the Bulldogs down in order, the Tigers jumped on the struggling Clayton Warner. First baseman Kameron Misner hit a lead off single, and right fielder Trey Harris immediately doubled to left to drive him. A&M coach Mitch Hill then replaced Warner with his brother, senior Casey Warner, but the elder Warner walked Sharp on four pitches.
Harris was thrown out at third in a double-steal attempt and Bond flied out for out No. 2, and it looked like the Bulldogs would escape without any more damage. However, Casey Warner walked pinch hitter Isaiah Cullum before committing a throwing error on a Cornelius grounder to load the bases. Warner would walk pinch hitter Matt Burler to drive in another Missouri run before getting pulled for Lemuel Lackey, who would walk in another run himself as the Tigers built a 5-1 lead.
A&M finally got to Bedell in the seventh, scoring a run on a throwing error by Bond before Nolan Gromacki came in to limit the impact.
“I wanted to stay in, absolutely, but Coach made his decision and I fully support it,” Bedell said. “Nolan came in and got me out of the jam immediately and he did his job and I’m really appreciative of that.”
The Tigers would score 2 more unearned runs in the bottom of the inning with the help of three walks, two errors and Sharp’s third hit of the night. The junior ended the game with a double, two singles and three runs and raised his batting average to a scorching .519.
The Bulldogs got one back on a solo shot by J.T. O’Reel in the eighth, but junior Giovanni Lopez struck out O’Neal-El looking in the ninth to seal the first win of Missouri’s ten-game home stand.
“Eleven days is a long time for us to be off on the road,” Bieser said. “We’ve got a nice little home stretch here and we like playing in front of our home fans. We want to protect our field and protect this house and make sure we’re playing really good baseball at home.”
Next up: Missouri and Alabama A&M will meet again Wednesday at Taylor Stadium. First pitch is set for 4 p.m.