COLUMBIA — It took as many pitchers as Missouri scored runs, but the Tigers capped off a perfect 11-0 non-conference midweek record with an 8-7 win against Indiana State on Tuesday at Taylor Stadium.
Missouri (32-20, 10-17 Southeastern Conference) held a 7-2 lead at the start of the eighth inning but had to use four pitchers in a sequence that went: walk, single, flyout to left, strikeout, RBI single, walk, RBI hit by pitch, RBI hit by pitch, E6 that allowed two unearned runs and ended with a strikeout.
Missouri coach Steve Bieser had to use Andy Toelken, a pitcher he'd hoped to save for the weekend, to close out the eighth inning after a combination of Konnor Ash, Nile Ball and Luke Anderson could not. The Tigers' bullpen has been, if not great, at least not prone to collapse, and the error by shortstop Chris Cornelius was just his fourth of the season.
Bieser said the top of the eighth inning is usually something that happens only in nightmares. Trey Harris said it unfolded in slow motion from his vantage point in right field.
"Just a rough inning," Bieser said. "Going with some of our young guys there and giving them an opportunity to come in, you've got a five-run lead you have to throw strikes. That was my message to the guys, that we're not going to let somebody stand up there and not throw a strike with a five-run lead. We had a circus going there."
The Tigers also hit into four double plays in the game, but Indiana State (26-22) had nearly as much trouble with the home team in the bottom of the eighth as Missouri had with the visitors. Cornelius was hit by a pitch to lead off, moved up on a sacrifice bunt, and after Brian Sharp, who was the game's starting pitcher and leadoff hitter, was intentionally walked, Matt Berler singled to left-center. Cornelius was called out at the plate and after a lengthy review the officiating crew determined there had been no plate obstruction by catcher Max Wright. Trey Harris was hit on the shoulder on a 1-2 count to load the bases and Sharp scored the game-winning run on a wild pitch.
"You see the down angle there and you're hoping it takes a hard bounce off the catcher, and it scampered away from him," Sharp said.
The top of Missouri's order did its fair share of the work. Sharp finished 2-for-2 with two walks, a double and an RBI to go along with four innings of five-hit, one-run ball on the mound. Berler had his first three-hit game, and Harris hit his 10th home run to become the first Tiger since Jacob Priday in 2007-08 with back-to-back seasons of 10 or more home runs. Harris was upset with himself after he struck out with two men on in the first inning, and thought he had drawn a walk on a 3-1 count to lead off the fourth, and had tossed his bat to the third-base dugout before strike two was called. He crushed the ball to left two pitches later.
"I needed it. For real, I needed that," Harris said. "I was (very) frustrated, just really frustrated with what I did my first at-bat. Runners on first and second, as a senior that can't happen. I did it all this weekend and this weekend I wasn't as frustrated, but when I didn't do it today, in a midweek game, it got to me a little."
Missouri walked seven times, reached twice more on hit batters and had 12 hits but stranded eight base-runners. But with four double plays hit into, Cornelius' uncommon error he made on a throw without set feet and the bullpen's struggles, the overall sense of the game from the players and Bieser was that luck broke against the Tigers and they were able to win anyway.
"I'd rather have it happen now than this weekend," Harris said.
The Tigers welcome Tennessee to town at 6:30 p.m. Thursday. The Volunteers, at 11-16 SEC, are currently a game up on Missouri, which means Bieser and company need to win the series to make the SEC Tournament the following week in Hoover, Ala. Bieser said he believes his team's body of work, including RPI and 14 wins in 31 games against RPI top-50 teams warrants a regional berth, but the Tigers were on the outside looking in because of their conference record in this week's tournament field projections. In order to be safely in, Missouri will need a series win against Tennessee and likely a win or two in the conference tournament to make the program's first regional appearance since 2012.