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Missouri’s arms power the Tigers past No. 10 Vanderbilt

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T.J. Sikkema recorded a career-high 10 strikeouts, and Andy Toelken pitched three perfect innings in relief.

In the sixth inning, with one out and Vanderbilt’s Philip Clarke on second, Jayson Gonzalez went up to bat and took a T.J. Sikkema pitch to the wall in the right field corner.

Clarke waited for the ball to land before breaking for home, but he took just a short lead off of second base. With an opportunity to stop a run from scoring, Trey Harris tracked the ball off the bounce, made a perfect throw to Matt Berler, and the ensuing relay beat Gonzalez at home with time to spare.

This run-saving play backed an impressive start from Sikkema, who struck out a career-high 10 batters and combined with Andy Toelken out of the bullpen to propel Missouri (26-12, 7-9 SEC) to a 2-1 win over No. 10 Vanderbilt (23-15, 9-7 SEC) on Thursday.

“I honestly thought he had already scored when I threw it in,” Harris said. “Before I knew it, we were throwing it home and I was like ‘oh let’s go.’ So that was cool.”

Mizzou’s Cade Bormet led off the bottom of the second with a bloop single to right-center and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt from Alex Samples. He took third on a wild pitch from Drake Fellows, a move that proved crucial in the next at-bat. On a Matt Berler ground ball up the middle, second baseman Ethan Paul made a diving stop to keep the ball in the infield. However, he didn’t have time to make a throw, and Bormet scored to give the Tigers the early 1-0 lead.

Meanwhile, Sikkema was rolling through the first four innings. He struck out six straight from the second inning to the fourth, but the fifth inning wouldn’t go the same way for him.

With one out, the Commodores’ Alonzo Jones singled through the left side. Harrison Ray laid down a bunt to move him over, but Sikkema couldn’t get to the ball in time and Ray made it to first safely. Jones and Ray attempted a double-steal, and Austin Martin put one into right field to knock in Jones and tie the score. Connor Kaiser attempted a bunt as well, but luckily for the Tigers, he popped it up in the air for the second out, then Sikkema got Paul swinging to limit the damage.

In the bottom of the fifth, Missouri answered.

Martin couldn’t corral the throw on a Cornelius grounder to second, and Cornelius reached safely. Connor Brumfield then bunted him over to second, then Harris, Mizzou’s RBI leader, ripped a ball through the left side, and Cornelius scored the go-ahead run without a throw.

Sikkema again found himself in trouble in the sixth after Clarke’s double with one out, but the relay home on Gonzalez’s double made it two outs. Sikkema walked Stephen Scott in the next at-bat, but he caught Jones looking to escape the sixth with Mizzou up 2-1.

“[The strikeout] was obviously a big moment,” Sikkema said. “We were making plays, and I just had to get the guys fired up. I was so excited. The guys did a great job behind me, [Brett] Bond did a great job working for me, and it was a fun game.”

After throwing 100 pitches through six, Sikkema’s day was done, and Missouri coach Steve Bieser decided to go with Andy Toelken. The senior had a rough start to the season, posting a 4.56 ERA through his first five starts, but he had found more success since moving to the bullpen.

“Silly me for ever starting him” Bieser said with a laugh. “When you look at what he does out of the bullpen, he’s just been really solid. He gives you exactly what you need late in the game.”

Toelken more than proved Bieser’s decision right, sending down all nine Vanderbilt hitters he faced without much trouble. He recorded four strikeouts in three innings of work and earned his third save of the year.

Next up: Missouri and Vanderbilt are back at it for game two Friday at Taylor Stadium. First pitch is set for 6:30.