After he went on a tear to open the season, it was inevitable that Brian Sharp’s hitting would come back to earth.
However, the sweet-swinging lefty had faltered at the plate since his batting average peaked at .545 on March 2 versus UMBC. Coming into Tuesday, Sharp’s average had dropped all the way to .276, and he had recorded just six hits in his last 35 at-bats.
Sharp made the most of his opportunities against Missouri State (25-12), though, pitching 5.0 innings of two-run ball, going 2-for-4 from the plate, and scoring on Trey Harris’ go-ahead bomb to lead Missouri (28-13) to a resounding 8-2 win over the Bears.
“We’ve talked about doing things a little different at the plate, and it’s tough for an older, veteran guy that’s been doing things one way for a long time,” Missouri coach Steve Bieser said. “I think it’s a positive thing to see Brian get his two hits tonight, and not just hit the ball hard but get his two hits and have really good at-bats.”
Missouri had made it a habit of striking first throughout the season, but MSU put the Tigers behind right away.
Sharp immediately walked Hunter Steinmetz before Jeremy Eierman doubled to left to put two men in scoring position. Drew Millas hit a grounder to Brett Bond at first, and it looked like the Bears’ runners would hold up, but Bond threw behind Eierman at second, and Steinmetz broke for the plate. Paul Gomez fired the ball home to save a run.
The play would prove crucial in the next at-bat, as Ben Whetstone took Sharp deep to right-center for a two-run homer that gave MSU the early lead.
Sharp would allow just three more Bears to reach base through the fourth inning while striking out three. MSU’s Ty Buckner, however, matched Sharp through his first three innings on the mound, striking out three of his own and allowing just three Missouri baserunners.
The fourth inning, though, would see the beginning of Mizzou’s rebound at the plate.
Chad McDaniel, filling in behind the plate with Bond taking over at first, doubled to left with one out. Cade Bormet — who had come into Tuesday on a four-game hitting-streak — smacked one past a diving Whetstone at first to bring in McDaniel and extend his streak to five games.
After Sharp pitched around a single in the top of the fifth, he came back with another one-out hit for the Tigers in the bottom of the frame, setting up an opportunity for Trey Harris to tie the score.
The senior has proven himself as the clear leader of this Missouri squad as he’s first or second on the team in almost every offensive category, including a team-leading 36 RBI.
But Harris wouldn’t just knock in Sharp to tie it up. Instead, Harris blasted the Tigers into the lead with a two-run opposite-field shot that ended Buckner’s day on the mound and gave Mizzou a lead it wouldn’t give up.
“I had missed a couple fastballs (in his previous at-bats) that I really, really wanted. My grandma’s not gonna be too happy with the way I slammed my helmet,” Harris said. “At some point, you’ve got to make an adjustment. I just tried to fight off the curveball and tried to find a fastball I could hit.”
Bryce Montes de Oca, the winning pitcher in the Tigers’ 3-1 victory over Vanderbilt Friday, came on in relief in the top of the sixth and proceeded to pitch two no-hit innings. Meanwhile, MSU could not cool off Missouri’s hitters.
McDaniel started off another Tigers outburst in the sixth with a double, his second of the game. Samples cracked Missouri’s fifth double of the night to plate McDaniel, then stole third and scored on a Matt Berler single, giving Mizzou a three-run lead.
Three more doubles in the bottom of the eighth — this time from Samples, Berler and Vierling — extended the Tigers’ lead to 8-2 and gave Missouri eight total doubles, its most in a game since March 14, 2007, against Saint Louis University.
Ball came out to pitch a scoreless ninth, and the Tigers have now pulled within one game of tying the all-time series with the Bears.
“Honestly, it’s just about time,” Harris said about the offensive explosion throughout the lineup. “I see these guys putting in work everyday; trying to figure it out; trying to make adjustments; trying to do the little things right. I’m just happy that guys got to see the fruits of their labor.”
Next up: Missouri will head to Lexington to begin a weekend series with the Kentucky Wildcats (26-14, 8-10 in the SEC). First pitch is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Friday.