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Baseball: Mizzou takes 2 of 3 from New Jersey Tech

NJIT gave Mizzou all it could handle, but the Tigers won the series

via Twitter / @MizzouPix

Coming into this series, I highlighted the sneaky nature of this New Jersey Tech team. The Highlanders have played tough competition in each series this year, and they feature multiple future draft picks on their team. They put up a strong fight on the road at Taylor Stadium this weekend, but when push came to shove, it was Missouri that rose to the occasion and won two of three.

Thanks to some weather complications in Columbia this weekend, Friday ended up being a double-header. In the early game, the story was Missouri ace Chandler Murphy. After throwing six shutout innings last weekend, Murphy followed it up by throwing seven innings of one-run ball. He struck out eight while allowing just five hits and was credited with a complete game due to the double-header. The performance dropped his ERA down to 3.48 for the season and should be a good confidence boost before facing Tennessee next weekend.

At the plate, things got off to a great start for Missouri. In the first inning, the Tigers plated three runs thanks to RBI from Ross Lovich, Trevor Austin, and Juju Stevens. Lovich drove in another in the second inning, but from that point on, the Missouri offense quieted down for most of the day. Trevor Austin launched a 2-run HR in the fifth for insurance, and the Tigers eventually won 6-1.

The nightcap on Friday was an all-out pitcher’s duel, and the Highlanders were the team able to throw the lone haymaker. In the second inning, 3B Jared Donnelly took Ian Lohse over the RF wall to give NJIT a 2-0 lead, and that was all the run-support their pitching staff would need.

Aidan Kidd got the start and went 4.1 innings, allowing just one run and striking out six. In the fifth, Missouri plated their only run and had runners on the corners with one out. NJIT turned to their bullpen and called Grant Vurpillant into the game. The reliever came in and made an instant impact by getting pinch-hitter Juju Stevens to ground into a double play.

In the sixth, Missouri got runners to second and third, but once again couldn’t capitalize, and in the seventh, Stevens grounded into another double play to end the game. After losing just 2-1 and stranding seven runners including multiple runners on third, Missouri really missed a major opportunity to sweep the double-header.

Perhaps the lone positive from the game was Missouri’s bullpen once again dominating to keep the Tigers in it. Austin Troesser and Zach Frankling combined to pitch the final five innings Friday night allowing just one hit and striking out a combined eight.

The weather situation in CoMo resulted in no game being played on Saturday, but the two teams returned to Taylor Stadium for their rubber match Sunday.

To start Sunday’s game, it looked like pitching would rule the day again. The starters for both teams pitched excellent games. Missouri Rorik Maltrud threw four shutout innings of two-hit ball and struck out seven. NJIT’s Joe Georgini went six innings allowing just two runs. However, when both teams turned to the bullpen, that’s when things got dicey.

Holding a 2-0 lead thanks to RBIs from Stevens and Hank Zeisler, Missouri turned to Tony Neubeck out of the pen. The sophomore lefty threw three solid innings but did allow the first NJIT run of the night in the 7th inning. Instead of bringing Neubeck out for another inning, Steve Bieser elected to turn to his closer Zach Franklin for a six-out save like he’s done many times this year. The plan has worked many times for Bieser this year, but Sunday was not one of those times.

After surrendering a leadoff single to start the eighth, Franklin surrendered homerun to Donnelly two batters later. The homer was Donnelly’s second go-ahead HR of the series. Coming into this series, Donnelly was hitting just .216 and had 0 HR. Franklin struck out the next two hitters, but Missouri headed to the bottom of the eighth trailing 3-2.

After Dalton Bargo grounded out to start the inning, Missouri promptly loaded the bases, and Steve Bieser elected to pinch-hit backup catcher Tre Morris for starter Dylan Leach. The decision paid off in the form of throwing miscue by none other than 3B Jared Donnelly. After a Morris rollover, Donnelly elected to go to the plate for the force out but sailed his throw over the catcher’s head. The crucial mistake plated two Missouri runners and gave the Tigers the lead back 4-3. Mizzou added another run on a Justin Colon sac fly two batters later.

In the bottom of the ninth, things went much smoother for Franklin who struck out the side to secure the win and a series victory for Missouri.

Player of the Week

In a series like this where offense is essentially non-existent, you have to go a with a pitcher as your player of the week. For me, it’s a no-brainer that this should Chandler Murphy. The Arizona transfer was absolute nails on Friday giving his bullpen the game off in a complete-game performance. For a bullpen that’s missing some arms and has been leaned on at times during non-conference play, the number of quality innings Murphy has provided these last two weekends cannot be understated.

I doubted Murphy being Missouri’s Friday-night guy after he struggled in his first two starts, but he has battled back in his last two outings throwing 13 inning and allowing just one run. My confidence in his ability to go out on a Friday night and give Missouri good innings has been restored, and I can genuinely say I’m excited to see him face Tennessee next weekend.