Missouri baseball sweeps home-opening doubleheader

Wednesday, March 6, 2013 | 6:49 p.m. CST; updated 9:35 p.m. CST, Wednesday, March 6, 2013
Missouri baseball played a double header against Eastern Michigan on Wednesday. Missouri won 7-1. The recent snow storms forced the cancellation of the team's first three home games against Northwestern this past weekend.

COLUMBIA — Head coach Tim Jamieson could feel the wheels coming off again. He didn't know how else to feel. He had seen his ballclub collapse too many times already in this young season, and the lead was only 1-0.

"Settle down, one-nine!"

A female fan's message to Missouri's freshman pitcher, No. 19 Alec Rash, pierced through the relative silence at Taylor Stadium. An opening-day crowd of 30 fans looked on, watching Rash struggle in the 30-degree temperatures to lock up the Tigers' first win of the season. After dropping the first six games of 2013, this year's Tigers already held the "record" for the program's worst start.

After launching a fastball high and inside that sent Eastern Michigan's Lee Longo sprawling to the dirt on his way to a leadoff walk, Rash still hadn't settled down. Even after he and the Tigers were the beneficiaries of a full-count strike 'em out-throw-'em-out double play that cleared the bases, Rash could only find the strike zone with nine of his 24 pitches. 

He walked three Eastern Michigan batters before Jamieson mercifully brought Rash's outing to an end, one out short of a job done. 

"Today was my first chance to get out there in a pressure situation, and I didn’t do it the way I wanted to," the former Philadelphia Phillies' second-round pick said. "Just some days you don't have your stuff."

With two Eagles on base and two outs in the top of the seventh and final inning, Breckin Williams, another freshman, trotted in from the Tigers' snow-filled bullpen to finish the job. Four pitches and a groundout later, the Tigers had survived for their first of two wins in Wednesday's doubleheader.

After eking out a 1-0 win in the early game, the late game served as the Tigers' offensive coming-out party.

"No matter what you say, you want guys to focus on process and not results," Jamieson said. "But results are ultimately what drives confidence, and getting a win helped the team.”

Missouri had scored only 12 runs through its first seven games of the season, including Game 1 on Wednesday, but its sudden success at the plate was good for seven runs in Game 2. The Tigers scored five two-out runs, including four during a rally in the bottom of the fourth inning.

Catcher and designated hitter Dylan Kelly continued his dominance at the plate, driving in three runs, while second baseman Kendall Keeton went 3-for-3 with an RBI.  

Scott Sommerfeld, who held a team-best .312 batting average in 2012, had failed to record a hit in four games this season before being benched for two games in Memphis. Wednesday, Sommerfeld hit a double and scored Missouri's lone run in the first game and followed it up with an RBI single in the first inning of the second game.

"Scott needs to be a big part of our offense, and hopefully this will get him going a little bit," Jamieson said. "He needs to be in the middle of our lineup and be a guy we can count on."

The one facet of his team that Jamieson has counted on this season is starting pitching, and Wednesday was no different.

Jace James started the early game for the Tigers, allowing only one hit in six shutout innings, striking out five Eagles in the process. Keaton Steele, who played third base in the early game, started on the mound for Missouri in the late game, allowing two hits in five innings. 

If reliable starting pitching was the common factor in the Tigers' first six road games and their first home game, the ability to finish was the difference Wednesday.

Jamieson admitted that during the home opener, he had his doubts.

"You wouldn’t be human if you didn’t feel that way," Jamieson said. "There’s no question it feels like the wheels are coming off a little bit."

The coach then turned around, about to retire to the clubhouse, before turning back around to finish his thought.

"But they stayed on this time."

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