COLUMBIA — It ended as unceremoniously as one could have imagined. Brett Graves hit Dylan Burdeaux, the first batter he faced in the ninth, and pitching coach Matt Hobbs began his head-down saunter out to the mound.
"I don't really have an excuse; I just put it right in his back," Graves said.
But the line of teammates clustered in front of the dugout told the real story about the junior righthander's night. Graves allowed eight hits and one run in eight innings and Missouri beat Southern Miss 4-1 in its home opener.
The teams' second meeting of the season happened in front of the largest opening day crowd (1,028) in the program's history.
The Tigers (5-6) took a 2-0 lead in the first inning. Singles by Josh Lester and Kendall Keeton put men on first and third for Dylan Kelly.
On a 1-0 pitch, Kelly hit a high fly ball straight at center fielder Connor Barron. At least, that's what it looked like, because Barron looked up at the dark blue-gray evening sky and stood rooted to the outfield grass.
The situation became clearer as the ball began its descent and Barron made no distinct motions toward it. He couldn't see it, and all he could do was make a fruitless jab just before the ball plopped down a couple feet away. Lester scored from third and Kelly reached first with a single.
"I'm thankful for twilight," Missouri head coach Tim Jamieson said.
Dillon Everett walked to load the bases, and although Zach Lavy then hit into a double play to end the inning, Keeton scored before the third baseman could tag Kelly for the third out.
That was all the cushion Graves and the Tigers would need. He took a couple innings to become completely comfortable with his secondary pitches, but Graves was throwing plenty of strikes with his fastball, which was at a good enough velocity to keep opposing batters from squaring anything up.
"He pitched well, really well, but he didn't pitch as well tonight as he did last weekend," Jamieson said. "But for him to not pitch as well and still compete and do the things he did is a real positive sign, because you're not going to have your best stuff every time out."
Southern Miss starter Conor Fisk was giving Missouri trouble in the middle innings. He had retired 10 consecutive batters until Jake Ring walked with two outs in the bottom of the seventh.
"When he's grooving like that, you just got to break his rhythm," designated hitter Eric Anderson said of Fisk.
Anderson took advantage of that rupture. He ripped a double into the left field corner, giving the speedy Ring ample time to score. Luke Lowery relieved Fisk, and Lester hit another double — a weak liner just past the diving third baseman — to score Anderson and push the lead to 4-1.
Graves made a successful appeal to go back out for the ninth, but the hit batter meant it was Keaton Steele's time. Steele allowed an infield single and a walk to load the bases, but he blew a fastball past Nick Dawson to end the game.
The Tigers are scheduled to play at 2 p.m. Saturday. John Miles will get the start.
Supervising editor is Wade Livingston.