Strong pitching and defense pace Missouri State past Mizzou baseball team

Text by Zach Garcia

Photos by John Guminski

Pitcher Jace James (10) delivers a first-inning strike. James pitched three innings, and allowed two runs.

Pitcher Jace James (10) delivers a pitch in the first inning. James pitched three innings, and allowed two runs on April 24, 2013 at Taylor Stadium in Columbia.

Missouri left fielder Dane Opel hit a line drive in the first inning almost perfectly. Almost.

Opel drove the ball 399 feet to straightaway center field, but could’ve used an extra 12 inches. Missouri State center fielder Tate Matheny jumped and crashed into the outfield wall to make a highlight reel catch, just before Opel’s line drive was about to carom off the 400-foot indicator.

“All you can do is smile on that one,” Opel said. “He made a good play.”

That play set the tone for the Missouri Tigers (13-23), who fell to in-state foe Missouri State 4-2 at Taylor Stadium on Wednesday. Starting pitcher Matt Hall carried the visiting Bears (26-11), going seven innings, while allowing one run on three hits and striking out six batters.

Despite an initial eight innings of frustration at the plate, Missouri mustered a ninth inning rally that, much like Opel’s first inning swing, came up just short. The Tigers put together a one-out rally that scored one run and put two more runners in scoring position. But pinch hitter Jake Ivory’s check-swing strikeout and second baseman Kendall Keeton’s ground out to the shortstop cut the comeback two runs short. Missouri State closing pitcher Grant Gordon notched a shaky save in the process, but did strike out three batters in two innings of relief to seal the 4-2 win.

Missouri State turned a handful of good defensive plays, following Matheny’s first inning catch at the wall. In the bottom of the second inning, Missouri State second baseman Andy Cheray made a play on a ground ball up the middle, and then threw across his body to beat Missouri catcher Dylan Kelly at first base.

In the fifth inning, Missouri State’s third baseman Joey Hawkins dove to catch a line drive down the third base line and recovered to throw out Keeton running to first base. In the seventh inning, Hawkins grabbed a hard hit ball by the Tigers shortstop Dillon Everett just before it hit the infield dirt, and then threw Kelly out at first base for a double play.

Cheray connected for a two-run home run off of Missouri starting pitcher Jace James in the third inning. The Bears tacked on runs in the seventh and eighth innings, providing just enough offense to hold on for the win. James lasted three innings, giving up two runs on five hits while taking his second loss of the season.

The Tigers’ offense mustered only four hits and two runs. Despite the first inning robbery, Opel recovered to bat in Missouri’s first run in the third inning. Keeton, who walked in the inning, came around to score from second.

Josh Lester hit a double in the ninth inning to bring home Missouri’s second run. While the freshman has been the team’s starting first baseman for most of the season, Lester has now started games at three infield positions (shortstop and third base) for the Tigers.

“It’s kind of fun, I like it,” Lester said about the mobility in positions. “I grew up playing around the infield, first base was the only new one once I got here (to Missouri), but it keeps you interested.”

Four relief pitchers appeared for Missouri on Wednesday in John Miles, Jake Walsh, Eric Anderson and Breckin Williams. The group yielded a combined two runs (one earned run) on four additional Missouri State hits, striking out nine in the game’s final seven innings.

The Tigers return to Southeastern Conference play on Friday night, with starting pitcher Rob Zastryzny (2-7) taking the mound against the visiting Auburn Tigers (24-16, 6-12 SEC) for a 6 p.m. start time. The three-game series will be played at Taylor Stadium.

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