Youngstown State’s Justin Thomas had shut down Missouri before, and Tigers coach Tim Jamieson was ready to scrap for every run he could get.
As it turned out, he didn’t have to.
The Missouri coach called for a suicide-squeeze bunt in the fourth inning, then watched Missouri score nine runs two innings later to blow the game open. The Tigers beat the Penguins 13-0 on Saturday at Taylor Stadium.
“I thought it was going to end up being like a 3-0, 4-1 game,” Jamieson said. “That’s what my mindset was early in the game.”
With the Tigers leading 2-0 in the sixth, Thomas, the starting pitcher, left the game with men on first and second and two outs. Andy Svitak came in, hit Greg O’Neill with a pitch and then walked four straight batters. Matt Gnacinski, his replacement, didn’t fare much better, giving up a hit batter, two walks and two hits before the inning, mercifully, came to a close.
MU scored nine in the inning on two hits, eight walks and two hit batters and led 11-0. Outfielder James Boone, who had three RBI, said he knew the Tigers would have more success once they drove Thomas from the game.
“That’s key. Once you get in the bullpen, that’s when you can start making things happen,” Boone said. “They were giving us a lot of opportunities, obviously, but give us some credit for getting to the bullpen.”
MU starting pitcher Max Scherzer said the inning dragged on for so long he worried about keeping his arm loose.
“I came down the line and just played catch a little bit and did some stretching and stuff to keep myself warm,” he said.
From that point, Missouri (11-4) cruised to victory, but it wasn’t that easy in the early going. Thomas shut out the Tigers on two hits through seven innings in a 3-2 Youngstown State victory last year and didn’t give up a hit in the first three innings Saturday.
With two men on in the fourth, Boone lined a single into left-center field for the first run of the game. Sophomore Hunter Mense came up next, and Jamieson immediately called for the squeeze play.
Mense laid a perfect bunt down the first base line and Jacob Priday came racing home for a 2-0 lead.
“It’s something we work on a lot in practice, and I’ve had a couple of opportunities to get sacrifice bunts down and haven’t been successful,” Mense said. “You work on it so much, you’re bound to get one down sooner or later.”
Because the game ended 13-0, it would be easy to forget those two runs, but Jamieson said they might have been the most important.
“I thought it was going to be a close, low-scoring game,” he said. “I was real pleased with the way we executed in that inning.”
Perhaps equally important was Scherzer’s performance on the mound. The sophomore matched Thomas through the first three innings and then continued to mow Penguins down. He pitched seven shutout innings, giving up three hits and a walk and striking out six.
“Max continued to grow as a pitcher,” Jamieson said. “(He threw) 81 pitches in seven innings, and the thing that Max has struggled with is using it (his energy) up during the first five innings and not be able to get us into the eighth inning. It’s nice to see him be a little more efficient.”