COLUMBIA — It never hurts to have a back up plan.
After a rough start from Eric Anderson in Missouri baseball’s game with Oklahoma State on Saturday at Taylor Stadium, Missouri found itself desperately in need of some mop-up work with the Cowboys up 7-2.
Luckily for the Tigers, Jeff Scardino has filled this role nicely for the season. But this time, he didn’t get much of a chance.
In a gutsy move, the Cowboys sent pitcher Brad Propst to the plate in the bottom of the fourth inning. In his first at-bat of the season, Propst launched a two-run homer to deep left field, over Missouri’s bullpen and into the football team’s practice field.
The bomb made the score 10-2. The next batter was plunked by Scardino. Scardino, known for his excellent control, was immediately tossed.
Catcher Brett Nicholas took his mask off in frustration, and Scardino stood on the mound confused. Coach Tim Jamieson came out to argue, but Scardino's exit changed Missouri’s plans fast.
Without the team’s most reliable long reliever, Missouri had to trust junior transfer Zack Hardoin with the duties.
Hardoin had the worst earned run average on the team and had struggled in every role he’d tried this season, as a set-up man or starter.
But this time, he came through.
The junior left-handed pitcher gave the Tigers 5 1/3 scoreless innings, giving his team a chance to come back before finally losing to Oklahoma State 10-7.
With his teammates clearly frustrated with the way game was going, Hardoin said it was crucial for him to come in and mellow the mood.
“You just got to keep your cool and stay calm and collected and do what you know how to do,” Hardoin said.
After Hardoin started putting up zeroes, the Tigers started to turn it around. The defense looked sharper, and the batters were giving high-quality at-bats.
Hardoin said he was excited with the impact his performance had on his teammates. It also allowed him to put his past struggles behind him.
Nicholas said Hardoin’s pitching reflected his personality. Hardoin doesn’t let much bother him and being thrown into a blowout game didn’t bother him either.
“Everybody was fired up at that time,” Nicholas said. “I think the best thing that Zack did was he came in with the poise that he always comes in with. It didn’t matter what the situation was. He just kind of showed that it didn’t matter that Scar got tossed.”
With the recent bullpen struggles, having Hardoin show that he is capable of succeeding against tough competition is a huge relief for Jamieson.
“I hope it gets him going,” Jamieson said. “We certainly need all the help we can. … Against left-handed hitters, we need him to be the guy or at least one of the guys.”
And while Scardino being thrown out was a downer for him, it allowed Missouri to find another guy it can rely on. Jamieson said it also likely prevented retaliation from the Cowboys.
“I wasn’t angry because college baseball is very conservative when it comes to situations like that,” Jamieson said. Fastball inside followed the home run, and Jeff said he didn’t throw at him on purpose. But I can’t fault the umpire — their job is to keep the game in control. Had he let him stay in there, I guarantee you someone else was going to get hit.”
Missouri (19-15, 4-7 Big 12) plays Oklahoma State (20-13, 4-7 Big 12) in the rubber game at 1 p.m. Sunday at Taylor Stadium. The Tigers will try to win their first Big 12 series of the season.