There was a sharp contrast between the tops and bottoms of innings Friday night at Taylor Stadium.

No. 5 Tennessee (35-11, 15-7 Southeastern Conference) was patient. The Volunteers — who entered the night second in the SEC in walks — generally took longer than Missouri with their offensive innings. They drew 10 free passes, spread out 10 hits and put runners on base in every frame.

In the home halves were the Tigers, swinging early in counts and quickly getting on and off the field, for better or worse. Missouri (12-30, 5-17) went down in order six times but also took just nine pitches to score a run in the fifth inning.

The contrasting styles had Missouri leading 4-3 through seven innings. Tennessee’s patience hadn’t paid off, as it hit 2-17 with runners in scoring position.

Second baseman Max Ferguson made it all a moot point when he mashed a two-run home run off the football practice facility past the right field wall in the eighth to put Tennessee ahead 5-4. It was his third hit of the evening. The score held as the Vols took Game 1 of the three-game series.

The Tigers' offensive approach was designed to be the best way to get at Tennessee's pitchers.

“The scouting report for the whole entire (pitching) staff for Tennessee is they’re filling up the zone,” Andrew Keefer said. “The last guy as well (Sean Hunley), he’s 89% fastball and I don’t even know if he threw anything but a fastball tonight. So (the plan) was be aggressive early.”

Missouri starting pitcher Seth Halvorsen worked in and out of trouble all night as he struggled with his command. He managed to avoid any damage in the early innings, working out of jams with runners in scoring position in the first and second.

The right-hander couldn’t escape in the fourth, though. Down 3-0, Tennessee got on the board with a single from Justin Beck. A bases-loaded walk to Liam Spence brought home another run. Halvorsen finished the night with a no decision, having allowed three runs on five hits over five innings. He also walked six and hit two batters.

“He wasn’t very sharp,” Missouri coach Steve Bieser said. “Seth’s got really good stuff and his stuff should play better than what it played tonight. You can’t walk that many runners and expect to get out unscathed. That just tells you how good his stuff is, though, to go through five innings and only give up three runs whenever you’re missing the strike zone as he did tonight.”

Keefer opened the scoring in the second inning with a solo shot to left, his second homer of the season. The Tigers stretched their lead to three the next inning on Brandt Belk’s two-out, two-run single through the right side of the infield.

In the sixth, Ferguson flared a Texas leaguer down the left-field line with runners on first and second. Shortstop Joshua Day and third baseman Luke Mann both pursued the ball, as did Belk from left field. None could get to the ball as it dropped between all three and Tennessee tied the game.

Missouri took the lead back in the bottom of the inning. Mann doubled on the first pitch of the frame, and Keefer got his hands inside an 0-2 breaking ball to fist it the other way down the right-field line.

“I was frozen by it, so I just threw my hands at it, trying to foul it off,” Keefer said. “And I got lucky and it went down the line fair.”

  • Sports reporter, fall 2020. Studying print and digital sports journalism. Reach me at wdm79h@umsystem.edu or in the newsroom at 882-5700

Recommended for you