After traveling to Knoxville, the Tigers were officially done with the real scheduling gauntlet and began a run of winnable series against SEC opponents. Against Kentucky, things looked bleak after Thursday night, but a dominant pitching performance on Friday followed up by an improbable comeback on Saturday allowed the Tigers to take the series against the Cats.
To say things could’ve started better for the Tigers in this series would’ve been an understatement. When Torin Montgomery hit a three-run bomb in the bottom of the first to give Mizzou a 3-2 lead, things looked briefly promising, but that was the only bright spot all night for the Tigers.
Spencer Miles who was coming off back-to-back solid starts, but that positive momentum was quickly halted. In five innings of work, Miles surrendered 12 hits and 8 runs, and things didn’t get any prettier when he turned it over to the bullpen. Christian Wall gave up four more runs in only 1.1 innings of work, and Kentucky piled on a couple more for good measure before finishing off the Tigers, 15-6.
At the plate, there wasn’t much too write home about aside from Montgomery’s bomb. He added another hit and RBI, and Fox Leum left the yard (it seems like this happens daily), but that was all she wrote for the Mizzou offense.
Here’s Fox’s nuke in the 4th inning (side note: I’m pretty sure I gave him this nickname first):
The Tigers are chasing the NCAA tournament for the first time in a while, but if they lost this series, they could’ve all but written off that dream barring an improbable string of victories down the stretch of the year. With that being said, Tony Neubeck wasn’t going to let the Tigers’ NCAA tournament dreams take a hit as long as he had the ball on Friday night.
The true freshman had mostly been giving 3-5 innings in his starts this year, but he hit another level this weekend. Neubeck stifled the Kentucky bats for seven innings allowing just three hits and two earned runs. It was a masterful performance on the mound, and one of the best of the season in one of the Tigers biggest games so far.
While Neubeck dominated on the mound, the Tigers offense found a rhythm in this one, too. A three-run second inning got things rolling for the Tigers before getting one more in the fourth, and in the seventh, they exploded. Fox took another ball out over Taylor Stadium’s right field wall and Josh Day plated two more with a triple before scoring on a wild pitch. That put the Tigers up 9-2, and Kentucky was down for the count. A couple meaningless late-inning runs were all the Wildcats manage as the Tigers set up a rubber match on Saturday.
This ball still might not have landed, and if it has, it was in Booneville:
In the first two innings on Saturday, the Kentucky Wildcats scored six runs and the Missouri Tigers scored none. It looked like the game was about to get out of hand, but the Tigers weren’t going to back down.
An 8-run second inning catapulted the Tigers into the lead as they wore down the Kentucky pitchers with hit after hit. They didn’t hit a single homerun, but they peppered the ball all over Taylor Stadium to take the lead 8-6. (I’ll attach a montage of the hitting barrage after this).
While the offensive explosion was the key to this comeback victory, it wouldn’t have been possible without Carter Rustad’s 4.2 innings of shutout relief. He shut down the Kentucky bats after they roughed up Austin Marozas and ensured that Mizzou would get the series victory. A couple insurance runs via an error and a Ross Lovich RBI-single compounded with a save from Ian Lohse finished the job.
Standout Performer of the Weekend
Fox Leum kept cranking homers and Ross Lovich had a resurgence at the dish with some key RBI, but in my opinion the performance of the weekend has to go to Tony Neubeck. The freshman put together arguably the start of the year for the Tigers. 7 innings of 2-run ball in a game that could potentially keep your NCAA tournament hopes alive are massive. Now the Tigers are set up in a situation, where they have even more trust in Neubeck to go out and give a quality start and where they can go into each of their remaining series still with the belief they can make a regional.