COLUMBIA — On a Missouri baseball team with a lineup full of veterans, freshman Case Munson has spent most of the year coming off the bench as a pinch hitter.
On Sunday afternoon, Munson stepped to the plate in the 11th inning in his most important at-bat yet and ended up in the center of the team's celebratory pile after his sacrifice fly to center field lifted the Tigers over Texas in the 11th inning. The 7-6 win gave Missouri a series victory over No. 25 Texas in its final series against the Longhorns.
Starting pitcher Blake Holovach lasted just 2 2/3 innings. He issued five walks and hit one batter with a pitch.
The Missouri pitching staff issued a total of 11 walks.
Dane Opel hit a three-run home run in the fourth inning. Opel now leads the Tigers with nine home runs.
After making Munson the starting designated hitter for the three previous games, Missouri coach Tim Jamieson trusted him to come off the bench and find a way to score the runner on third base.
"No fear," Jamieson said of Munson. "That's the big part of it, especially where, if you don't get on, then the whole team feels it. If that's what you're thinking, then you're not going to get it down. He doesn't have any fear."
The walk-off came one pitch after Munson began trotting to first base, thinking he had been walked, only to have a strike called by the home plate umpire.
"I figured it was definitely ball four, so he called it, I came back, had a little chuckle," Munson said. "I was like, alright, here we go."
Jamieson praised Munson's focus after he stepped back in the batter's box.
"It was awfully hard for him to put the ball in play after he runs out of the box like that, and he still found a way to refocus and put the ball in play," he said. "He wanted to win the game, I'll guarantee you that. He didn't want to walk, but he thought he walked, and he was able to find a way to get it done."
Munson said his experience starting in the previous three games helped him relax at the plate.
"That really helped me relax, get a better feel of the atmosphere," he said. "Going into that situation I was a lot more comfortable then being pulled off the bench cold."
Munson's walk-off delivered a victory to his Francis Howell High School classmate Brett Graves, who pitched the final two innings for the Tigers.
While pitchers often sit in the clubhouse when the team is on offense, Graves stayed in the dugout and watched Munson seal the series win.
"I was on the front step," Graves said. "I was ready to go. I was out there the whole time, yelling just as loud as anybody was."
The series victory over Texas moves Missouri to 25-22 overall and 9-12 in the Big 12 Conference and brings the team one step closer to its goal of winning its final three series. Jamieson said he felt the team would need about five more wins to reach the NCAA Tournament.
The Tigers will play Missouri State on Wednesday before hosting Memphis for a three-game series and then finishing the season with a series at Kansas.
While the Tigers got the last laugh against Texas as a conference opponent, Graves said the team's focus is on the next two weeks.
"It meant a lot more to a lot of the seniors out here to finish this way, but it was a small step in a much bigger picture," Graves said.