A relatively uneventful game turned into a close call for Missouri baseball Thursday night, as the Tigers slipped past Florida A&M 5-3 in their first midweek game of the season. The Rattlers didn’t make much of a racket until the bottom of the ninth, but it was more than enough to evoke some nerves.
A handful of freshman pitchers made their debuts against the Rattlers, including Tommy Springer and Trae Robertson, who each threw scoreless innings and gave up one hit apiece. Senior Cameron Dulle earned the win, posting three consecutive strikeouts in the seventh inning to get the Tigers out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam. A late run by the home team was cut short by pitcher Trey Dillard, who struck out the final batter to end the game and earn the save.
The Tigers got things started right off the bat with consecutive singles by Alex Peterson and Kameron Misner, followed by a walk from Tony Ortiz. With the bases loaded, Austin James notched an RBI fielder’s choice to score Peterson. Luke Mann then shot one into right, recording his first career hit and scoring Misner.
In his first inning on the mound, Springer retired the top of the Rattlers’ lineup in order with two strikeouts and a pop-out to Misner in left. The Tigers matched the result during their next at-bat, recording a pair of strikeouts and a ground-out. Springer got himself into a bit of trouble in the second, hitting a batter and giving up a single, but the righty got out of the frame with his third K of the day.
Chris Cornelius crushed a leadoff single to kick off the third, and Misner followed with a walk. Missouri failed to capitalize, though. Ortiz flew out, and James followed with a fielder’s choice that sent Misner back to the dugout. With two runners still on, Mann grounded out to first to end the inning.
In the third, Springer gave up no hits and tallied his fourth K to end the frame. The Tigers went three up, three down at the plate, and Robertson, a former Hickman High School standout, took the rubber in the bottom of the fourth. Despite giving up a double and a walk with two outs, the freshman escaped the inning with no damage done after a pop-out to left.
Cornelius cranked a single to left to start the fifth, but the junior was gunned down at second just a few pitches later. Misner then doubled to the left-center gap, but Ortiz grounded out to end the inning. Robertson notched another scoreless inning, and the Rattlers retired the Tigers in order to start the sixth.
Next, freshman righty Seth Halvorsen made his debut on the rubber. Halvorsen gave up a walk but recorded his first strikeout to end the inning. The top of the seventh saw more of the same, as the Tiger hitters went three up, three down once again.
Just as the game was hitting a lull, the bottom of the seventh sent Missouri into crisis mode. Halvorsen walked the first two batters of the inning, and head coach Steve Bieser brought in newcomer Lukas Veinbergs. The junior’s time on the mound was short-lived, consisting of just one batter, as another walk sent Bieser back to the bullpen.
This time, the Missouri coach opted for experience. With the bases loaded and nobody out, Dulle came in with a clear head and brought his best stuff. The senior righty tallied one, then two, then three Ks in a row, stranding all three Rattler runners and taking the wind right out of the home team’s sails.
The Tigers took advantage of the momentum, too. Misner and Ortiz both walked to start the eighth, and freshman Cameron Swanger ripped an RBI single to right in his collegiate debut. Misner scored on the play, extending Missouri’s lead to 3-0. The Rattlers then went three up, three down to end the eighth.
Freshman Josh Holt Jr. carried the Tigers’ momentum into the final inning, roping one into the left-center gap for a double and tallying his first career hit. Known for his speed, Holt scored from second on a single by sophomore Clayton Peterson. Cornelius then kept things alive with a shot to right field, notching a double and scoring Peterson. Misner flew out to right to end the frame, and Missouri entered the bottom of the ninth with a 5-0 advantage.
Few expected what came next. Konnor Ash, who earned the win for the Tigers on Saturday against North Florida, took the mound to close. The sophomore struck one out to start before walking three in a row. Ash then notched another K with a pitch in the dirt, but the runner from the third managed to score on the play to put the Rattlers on the board.
With a 5-1 lead and just one out to go, Ash hit a batter to load the bases again. At that point, a blooper to right field was all that was needed to make the game too close for comfort. Two scored, and Bieser returned to the bullpen to bring in the seventh Tiger pitcher of the day.
Dillard took the rubber with runners on the corners. He walked the first batter he saw, sending the Rattlers’ winning run to first. But, with the bases juiced, the sophomore recovered and pulled through. The final batter struck out swinging, giving Dillard his first and final K of the night.
With the 5-3 win, Missouri improved to 2-2 (.500) on the year. The Tigers will head to Fort Myers, Florida, for a game against Northeastern on Thursday and a three-game weekend series against Rhode Island.
Supervising editor is Eric Lee.