Missouri baseball falls to Georgia in 13 innings

Saturday, April 5, 2014 | 12:13 a.m. CDT; updated 11:26 p.m. CDT, Saturday, April 5, 2014
Missouri pitcher Brett Graves pitches during Friday's game against Georgia at Taylor Stadium. Graves had nine strikeouts in the game, but the Tigers lost 2-1 in 13 innings.

COLUMBIA — The story of Missouri's 2-1 loss to Georgia in 13 innings on Friday night was one that's been told many times this season: Great pitching and a lack of clutch hitting, with some errors — both mental and physical — thrown in.

It was just a bit more drawn out this time. 

The first 11 1/2 innings are easy to explain. The Tigers (13-15, 3-7 Southeastern Conference) took a 1-0 lead in the first inning. Eric Anderson walked, Logan Pearson reached on an error and Kendall Keeton drove Anderson home. 

From then on, it was a pitcher's duel befitting the chilly temperatures that dampened the pop of the teams' metal bats. 

Brett Graves looked as sharp as ever for Missouri. The junior right-hander threw 7 1/3 innings and struck out a career-high nine batters. He located his fastball well all night and mixed in his curveball more as the game went on, often early in the count. He allowed hits, but they were all singles — often ground balls — and none of them contributed to serious rallies. 

"That's what our pitching staff is founded on," Graves said. "Throwing strikes and throwing ground balls, and that's what we were trying to do."

Ryan Lawlor threw just as well for the Bulldogs. The lefty found out early on that he could get strikes a couple inches off the outside corner, so he pounded that spot for much of the game and mixed in some breaking balls. On six of his eight strikeouts, he caught the Tigers' hitters looking. 

Keeton and Jake Ring were both picked off — from second and first, respectively — but apart from that, Missouri played a clean game in the field and its pitchers threw strikes. 

Georgia tied the game at 1-1 in the eighth inning. After that, Keaton Steele took over on the mound for Missouri and Jared Cheek did the same for Georgia. Both were basically as effective as each team's starter. 

When Missouri loaded the bases with one out in the 12th inning, it appeared likely that Georgia would be the team to finally fold. Pearson was up, facing a five-infielder alignment. With the winning run on third, any ball in the outfield would threaten to bring home the winning run.

But Pearson struck out, with his bat flying out of his hands and back to the netting behind home plate. Keeton then grounded out to end the inning. 

The bottom of the 13th brought out the best and worst of Jake Ring. Zack Bowers, Georgia's first batter, blooped a fly ball into shallow center, but Ring sprinted in and made the catch, tumbling head-over-heels. 

But when Daniel Nichols ripped a ball to center, Ring didn't play it aggressively, fielding the ball on a bounce fairly deep in the outfield. Nichols took the turn around first and kept on going. Ring's throw to second was wide left. 

In a cruel coincidence, the player Georgia inserted to counter Missouri's scoring opportunity was the one who did the Tigers in. Heath Holder, who has played both first base and the outfield, was put in the Bulldogs' five-man alignment and stayed in the lineup afterwards. 

He hit a chopper to third baseman Ryan Howard. Howard's throw to Keeton was true, but the normally sure-handed Keeton dropped it. The ball rolled back to the wall and Nichols scored the go-ahead run. 

Missouri went in order in the bottom of the 13th. Georgia had left more runners on and had hit just as poorly, but when they did come through, it was at the right time. 

Steele and Missouri coach Tim Jamieson were both dejected after the game. Steele noted that he "definitely heard at least 10 F-bombs dropped in there (the clubhouse)."

"If losing doesn't hurt you, I think there's something wrong," he said.

But there was a also a recognition that the best way to rebound from a gutting loss is to follow it with a win. The Tigers face Georgia again tomorrow in less than 12 hours, and they still have an opportunity to win the series. 

Jamieson was even complimentary of his team's performance to an extent, save the early baserunning blunders.

"I thought we played really well," he said. "It leaves a really sour taste in your mouth, the way it ended."

However, he recognized that, like in so many other examples this season, it was tantalizingly close to being a win. 

"Before we lose the game, we should've won the game," Jamieson said.

Supervising editor is Wade Livingston.

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