Coming off a heartbreaking series loss to South Carolina, and with its final conference series against Tennessee looming this weekend, Missouri needed a confidence booster.
Heading into the eighth inning Tuesday, the Tigers looked to be on their way to exactly that, with a 7-2 lead on Indiana State. However, the Sycamores wouldn’t give up easily.
The Tigers allowed five runs in the eighth, which tied up the game and turned what should have been Brian Sharp’s fifth win of the season into a no-decision. Mizzou would fight back, though, loading the bases with two outs in the bottom of the inning before Sharp scored the eventual winning run on a wild pitch, and Missouri (32-20) escaped with a 8-7 victory over Indiana State (26-22).
“We didn’t do a good job of minimizing (in the eighth). They scored five,” Sharp said. “But I knew that, just getting out of that inning and the way the offense was playing tonight, I feel like we had a good chance.”
The Sycamores struck first in the top of the third, started by leadoff singles from Luke Fegen and Max Wright. A bunt moved both men into scoring position, and a groundout to short from CJ Huntley put ISU up 1-0.
In the top of the fourth, Sharp again found himself in trouble after a single by Romero Harris and a walk to Jake Means put two men on for Fegen with two outs. Fegen hit a single up the middle that looked like it would score Romero Harris, but a sliding stop from Chris Cornelius kept the ball in the infield. Harris ran too far down the third base line and Cornelius threw behind him, and the ensuing run down led to an out at home to end the inning.
Missouri would finally get its offense going in the bottom of the fourth. Trey Harris led off with his 10th homer of the year after being called back on what he thought was ball four. Alex Samples followed with a triple, and Brett Bond walked, and both would cross the plate in the inning, after a single from Isaiah Cullum and a fielder’s choice for Cornelius, to put Mizzou up 3-1.
“The called 3-1, I was like, ‘that’s just my luck, of course I get called back on a ball,’” Harris said. “I’m just happy I found the barrel because all I do is find the barrel one time and then the hits will come.”
The Tigers added another run in the fifth after a double play from Harris plated Sharp. Meanwhile, the bullpen was able to slow down the Sycamores’ attempts to claw back in the game.
ISU loaded the bases in the sixth, and Roberto Enriquez singled to drive in Romero Harris to cut the lead to 4-2, forcing Missouri coach Steve Bieser to bring in Cameron Dulle. The move worked, though, as Dulle got Fegen to ground into a rally-killing double play, the fifth of the game for both teams. Mizzou added three more runs through the sixth and seventh, extending the lead to 7-2 and putting the Tigers in the driver’s seat.
In the eighth, however, ISU flipped the script.
Konnor Ash came on to pitch for Dulle but gave up a walk and a single before getting an easy fly ball for out No. 1. Bieser then brought Nile Ball out of the bullpen, but he would only get one more out before giving up a single, a walk, and a hit by pitch to let in two runs.
Luke Anderson then came in and plunked the first batter he faced to allow ISU’s fifth run, which brought in Andy Toelken, the fourth pitcher of the inning. Toelken got a soft grounder to shortstop that should have ended the inning, but Cornelius threw the ball away to bring in two more. Toelken struck out Dane Giesler to finally end the inning, but a five-run eighth for the Sycamores knotted up the game.
“It was just a rough inning,” Bieser said. “Toelken wasn’t supposed to throw today. He was the one guy that I wanted to keep out of the action. You’ve got a five-run lead, you gotta throw strikes.”
The tied score set the stage for Sharp’s go-ahead run in the bottom of the inning. After taking a four-pitch walk and watching Cornelius get gunned down at home trying to score on a single from Matt Berler, Sharp scampered home on a wild pitch from Tyler Whitbread to give the Tigers the lead. Jordan Gubelman came in to close out the game in the ninth, and he sent ISU down in order to seal a 12-0 midweek record for Missouri.
Looking ahead, the Tigers will enter their most important series of the year this weekend against Tennessee. Winning two out of three over the Volunteers would clinch a spot in the SEC tournament, and it would give Missouri’s chances at playing in the NCAA tournament a boost. With so much riding on the series, Bieser will be looking for his team to play the game the way he knows it can.
“The guys understand that, win the series, go to the conference tournament. They understand everything that’s at stake,” Bieser said. “We’re 52 games into the season now, we’re not gonna change a thing. We are who we are, and we do what we do. Playing better than the other team is our goal.”
Missouri’s series versus Tennessee will start Thursday with first pitch scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at Taylor Stadium.