LINCOLN, Neb. – The Missouri baseball team got out to a good start Saturday afternoon, peppering Nebraska’s All-Big 12 Conference pitcher Zach Kroenke for seven hits and four runs in the first three innings.
With a 4-0 lead and a 2-1 win Friday night under their belts, the Tigers were starting to feel good about taking two straight from the Cornhuskers.
Not so fast.
The No. 7 Huskers scored seven unanswered runs at Hawks Field and won 7-5, evening the series with the No. 17 Tigers. The rubber game will be at 1 p.m. today.
“It was a tough loss for us today, coming out and getting ahead early and then falling behind,” designated hitter Greg O’Neill said. “We just have to come out (today) and win the series.”
The win gives second place in the Big 12 back to Nebraska, which improved to 38-10 overall and 13-7 in conference. Missouri is 32-15, 12-8 in the Big 12.
The Tigers had been struggling offensively of late, but they came out with their bats ready. Catcher J.C. Field’s single in the second inning scored O’Neill for the game’s first run.
In the third, O’Neill hit a two-run double barely fair down the third-base line to give the Tigers a 4-0 lead.
“(Kroenke) was coming right after me and I got a first-pitch fastball,” O’Neill said. “It was over the plate and I was lucky enough to have it stay inside the line.”
But starting pitcher Nathan Culp, and the Missouri defense, couldn’t hold the lead. Brandon Fusilier reached on Gary Arndt’s throwing error and scored in the fourth, and the Cornhuskers rallied for four runs in the fifth, thanks in part to two more Tiger errors.
Outfielder Hunter Mense said he thought Missouri might have involuntarily lost some focus after taking itself to a big early lead.
“I think we might have gotten a little bit complacent,” he said. “(Friday), we scored two runs and win the game and today we scored four and we got in that mind-set that we were going to win again.”
Meanwhile, Nebraska reliever Dustin Timm (4-1) didn’t allow Missouri to score again until the eighth. He pitched four innings before giving way to Brett Jensen, who earned his eighth save.
“It seemed like we were doing everything well for the first three innings,” Mense said. “And then they brought in Timm, and I think he did a real good job keeping us off-balance. I think that was the key to the ballgame.”
Nebraska’s bullpen has given up one run, unearned, in its past 30 innings pitched.
Unearned runs hurt the Tigers all day long. Four of the Cornhuskers’ seven came that way.
A strong crosswind caused Mense to drop a fly ball in center field, allowing a runner to reach base to lead off the sixth. That runner came around to score and make it 6-3.
Nebraska third baseman Alex Gordon went 4-for-5, but for the most part, the Conrhuskers did not hit the ball hard. Instead, they took advantage of four errors, six walks and a hit batter to make their comeback.
“Just look at the number of baserunners we gave them,” Missouri coach Tim Jamieson said. “A percentage of those came back to haunt us. We swung the bats well enough to win.”