COLUMBIA — One pitch before the pivotal play in Missouri's 5-2 win over No. 17 Tennessee on Friday night, Jake Ring looked lost as ever.
In the bottom of the seventh inning, Missouri (9-7, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) trailed 2-0 but had men on first and second after Zach Lavy singled and Dillon Everett took a pitch to the shoulder.
That brought Ring up. Tigers coach Tim Jamieson said he considered pinch-hitting for the freshman center fielder in that spot, and for good reason.
Ring had, and still has, the team's lowest batting average among qualified hitters. He has more than twice as many strikeouts as hits.
His night prior to the seventh: A strikeout and a bunt straight back to the pitcher that failed to move the runner from first.
So he wasn't going to lay one down.
"He actually swings the bat better than he bunts right now," Jamieson said.
The first pitch was a fastball at Ring's shoulders. He swung and missed.
"I was looking to smash one there, get out of the slump," Ring said.
But on the next pitch, Ring rewarded Missouri's coaches for keeping him in on what would qualify as an abnormally long leash. He was one of the team's strongest offensive contributors in the fall, and the Tigers have no way to replace or replicate his speed and defense.
"What he does out in center field, no one on our team can do," pitcher Keaton Steele said.
Ring anticipated a breaking ball, got one and singled past the first baseman. Lavy came around and scored, and the throw from the right fielder went far to the catcher's left and into Missouri's dugout.
The ball was greeted like it just hit an RBI single of its own. Everett came home, and Ring advanced to third.
That play tied the game at two, and Eric Anderson drove Ring home with a sacrifice fly to give the Tigers the lead.
Missouri got two more runs the next inning, but with Steele — who hasn't allowed an earned run all season — on the mound for the two-inning save, the result was a foregone conclusion.
Brett Graves didn't have his best command in his start and gave the Vols' hitters a few fat pitches, one that went for an RBI double and another for a solo home run. But Missouri's defense was solid behind him as he worked around hits, throwing seven innings and notching his third win of the season.
"It wasn't his best, but he kept us in the game," Jamieson said.
Because of winter weather being forecast for Sunday, the teams will play a doubleheader Saturday. The first game is scheduled for a 1 p.m. start.
Supervising editor is Sean Morrison.