In Saturday’s opening game of the Columbia regional’s second day, Miami’s Blake Tekotte hit a home run to lead off the game. His hit sparked the Hurricanes, who ended up eliminating fourth-seeded Kent State from the tournament with a 8-7 win.
On Saturday night, Tekotte’s old teammate did him one better.
Designated hitter Jacob Priday helped the Tigers overcome a 3-0 deficit by hitting two home runs in front of a record-crowd of 3,630. His last home run, a monster shot over the 16-foot high fence in center field, gave Missouri a one-run lead that it never let go.
Missouri ended with a 7-5 win over Louisville to advance to tonight’s final against the winner of this afternoon’s Miami-Louisville game.
Priday, from St. Louis, who played with Tekotte on Missouri summer-league teams during high school, smiled when asked if his friend’s home run was on his mind.
“I wasn’t at the game,” Priday said. “But I heard about it.”
Priday said Tekotte’s home run didn’t have any influence on his performance Saturday night.
“But I’m sure if we play tomorrow,” Priday said, “I’ll let him hear about it.”
While Priday’s blasts emphasized Missouri’s win, the Tigers’ bullpen was the unsung hero Saturday night. Starter Rick Zagone gave up 11 hits and four runs in five innings before giving way to freshman reliever Kyle Gibson. Gibson, and his mid-90s fastball, quieted the Cardinals’ bats until the ninth inning. The freshman struck out five and only gave up three his in 31/3 innings to earn the win.
“I just tried to come out and do my job,” Gibson said, “and that is to throw strikes, keep it low in the zone and get ground balls. The defense helped me out, and that is what you need coming out of the bullpen.”
Picking off from Aaron Crow’s zero-walk performance on Friday night, three Missouri pitchers only walked two batters on Saturday. While the Cardinals had nearly twice as many hits as the Tigers, Louisville pitchers put 10 runners on base due to walks or hit batters.
“It’s tough to win a regional game when you’re playing the host’s site and the No. 1 seed and you give up 10 free bases,” Louisville coach Dan McDonnell said. “We made it a little easy for them to score runs.”
McDonnell gave two reasons for the excess of free-passes to Missouri batters.
“There are probably some at-bats where I give credit to their hitters,” McDonnell said. “And there are probably some at-bats were we didn’t even compete, we didn’t even come close.
“But that’s the sign of a good club, to get on base and to manufacture runs.”
Much like Friday night, a key Missouri hit swung momentum to the Tigers’ side. Against Kent State, Missouri catcher Trevor Coleman’s two-RBI single awoke the Tiger’s bats. On Saturday, it was Priday’s sixth and seventh-inning home runs that gave Missouri confidence.
“I thought the first half of the game was theirs and the second half belonged to us,” Missouri coach Tim Jamieson said. “We got a couple of home runs and it really swung the momentum in our favor.”
McDonnell said he never felt comfortable, even with a three-run lead in the sixth.
“It’s college baseball, you don’t ever feel comfortable,” McDonell said.
Missouri will play in the championship game of the regional at 6:30 p.m. today. A win for the Tigers would result in their second-consecutive regional tournament championship. A loss would result in a final game, which would start at 1 p.m. Monday.