The Tigers had not been seeing Jacob Cantleberry’s best on the mound over his last few starts.
His ERA sat as low as 2.62 after an April 5 loss to Kentucky, but over his past two outings, his ERA rose to a season-worst 4.08. This was not the Cantleberry Missouri had grown accustomed to seeing through the first half of the season, but with South Carolina coming to town for the weekend, Cantleberry looked to bounce back with a great performance against the Gamecocks.
Turns out, he only needed a quality start.
Cantleberry pitched six strong innings, striking out six while walking two and allowing just two runs. The Tigers scored three runs combined in the sixth and seventh on a wild pitch and a two-run single by Peter Zimmermann to put themselves ahead, and Ian Bedell struck out three over three scoreless innings to give Missouri the 5-2 win.
“Anytime you can win on a Friday night, you don’t really care how you get them, you just want to get them,” head coach Steve Bieser said. “It was really good to see our team answer and cause a little havoc out there (...), and I thought we played pretty good team ball.”
The game looked to be a pitchers’ duel early on.
Both teams put a runner on base in each of the first five innings, but it was only in the third that the lineups took advantage of mistakes on the mound.
Cantleberry led off the top of the frame by striking out the Gamecocks’ first two batter. But after giving up back-to-back singles, Cantleberry could not pull out his third straight Houdini-esque escape. With runners on first and second, Cantleberry left one over the plate for Andrew Eyster, who roped one to the corner in left to plate two.
But Missouri would then respond in the bottom of the inning with a two-spot of its own.
Connor Brumfield walked to lead off the inning, and infield singles from Chris Cornelius and Kameron Misner loaded the bases with just one out for Zimmermann. A blooper into center knocked in Brumfield but Misner was thrown out at second, leaving runners on the corners with two outs. The Tigers wouldn’t even need to put a ball in play to tie the score, as a balk by Reid Morgan brought Cornelius home and evened up the score.
“We’ve done that all year. That’s why this team’s been so successful,” Zimmermann said. “(...) We’ve learned how to battle adversity and battle back. Coach always talk about, ‘stay the course.’ He really talked about before the game about stay the course adversity can hit, and that’s all we did tonight.”
From there, Cantleberry’s quality start continued. The southpaw was still not as sharp as he allowed a South Carolina runner in each of the next three innings, but he did not allow another run before Bieser ended his day.
“After the LSU start (a loss on April 12) and stuff, you just got to keep focus on executing pitches. You’ve got to keep it simple,” Cantleberry said.
Cantleberry’s strong pitching would end up being all Missouri needed, with the Tigers taking the lead for good in the bottom of the sixth. Chad McDaniel started the frame with a double to right, and Vierling set up for a bunt to move him over to third. But as Morgan fielded the ball to throw to first, he collided with third baseman Jacob Olson and both runners were safe.
From there, Missouri cruised.
The Tigers added two more on a two-run single that just got past the shortstop from Zimmermann in the seventh to give themselves some breathing room. Bedell then shut down the Gamecocks over the last three innings as Missouri took Game 1.
Up next: T.J. Sikkema will take the bump as the Tigers look to take Game 2 from South Carolina at 6:30 p.m. Saturday.