Missouri’s top pitcher, junior Max Scherzer, practiced in the bullpen before Missouri’s 6-3 win over Kansas State at Taylor Stadium. But he never made it onto Simmons Field on Sunday.
Scherzer hasn’t fully recovered from tendonitis in the biceps of his right throwing arm. Regardless, his assistance wasn’t required. Freshmen Rick Zagone, David Cales and senior Taylor Parker did just fine without him.
The freshmen combined for nine strikeouts, while Parker closed the ninth inning without allowing the Wildcats a hit.
The Tigers took the lead in the first inning and held on to win the final game of the series. Missouri ended the series 2-1 and is 5-1 in the Big 12 after sweeping Texas A&M in its conference opener.
Parker said he never doubted that Missouri would have a winning conference record without its ace pitcher.
“I would have taken that bet any day,” he said laughing. “It’s unbelievable, but in high school our coach used to always say ‘when you lose your best guy, your team gets better,’ and guys have stepped up left and right off the bench, and you can’t ask for more.”
Senior left fielder Zane Taylor said the win came largely because of batters setting up scenarios that were easy to transform into runs. Sophomore Jacob Priday demonstrated the concept when he went 0-for-3 at the plate but managed to drive home three runs.
Four Wildcat errors eased the Tigers’ efforts. The first came in the first inning and resulted in Missouri’s first run. Kansas State pitcher Chase Bayuk made a throwing error after catching a sacrifice bunt by Brock Bond.
The play gave Evan Frey time to score and put Taylor on third, in position to score his first of two runs.
Taylor also made one of the biggest plays of the game during the fourth inning when he made a leaping catch of a soaring fly ball at the left-field wall.
“It was about three-quarters of the way up the fence and I was going back, and I just got a quick peek at the ball,” Taylor said, “and once I jumped I pretty much knew I was going to hit, so I just put my hand and foot up there to catch myself.”
Cales entered the game in the fifth inning, during the Wildcats’ final opportunity to take the lead. He stepped to the mound after Kansas State pinch hitter Matt Marasco tapped a Zagone pitch to force in a run. Catcher J.C. Field dove for the ball and barely missed tagging Jared Goedert as he sprinted home.
With the bases loaded and one out, Cales struck out pinch hitter Byron Wiley.
“It was the same thing as going out there with nobody on. They’re not my runners,” Cales said. “But going out there, you just have to throw strikes at that point. There’s no errors or walks there.”
From there, the Wildcat offense began a downward spiral. Kansas State couldn’t score off of Cales or Parker and managed only one hit the rest of the game.
“It’s what we expect out of Zagone, what we expect out of Cales,” Parker said. “Those guys are finally getting their shot in there and getting in the heat. They’re just proving themselves over and over again. You can’t ask any more from those guys. It makes my job easy.
“All I have to do is put up one zero. Cales and Zagone put up five or six. The closer role is a pretty cake job when you have those two guys in front of you.”
Coach Tim Jamieson said the Tigers could have scored more runs against Kansas State in the first few innings, and was a little nervous because they didn’t. However, the 5-2 lead after the second served as a calming influence.
“This team believes that they can make a run at the Big 12 championship, and when you have a home series ... you have to win the series,” Jamieson said. “I think (Texas A&M and Kansas State) were two good baseball teams that we beat, and I was particularly impressed with K-State. Our guys battled and I think we’re getting better.”
As far as Scherzer returning to the mound, Jamieson said he expects him back for next weekend’s series against Kansas in Lawrence, Kan. He said the coaching staff thinks Scherzer’s tendonitis is basically gone. He just wasn’t fully recuperated. Jamieson said he expects Scherzer to throw at least once this week at practice.
“I know I’ve said this about 10 times,” Jamieson said, “but I’m really confident that he’s going to pitch next weekend.”