For the Missouri Tigers baseball team, everything changed in the blink of an eye Friday at Taylor Stadium.
They found themselves clinging on to a one-run lead heading into the ninth inning, and with redshirt sophomore closer Jake Walsh on the mound, a victory seemed sure to be at hand.
But it would take more than a routine inning for the Tigers (11-5) to pull out their 8-7 victory.
High Point first baseman Sal Pezzino had other ideas in mind. Pezzino blasted the first pitch Walsh sent his way over the right-field fence, tying the game and draining the energy right out of Taylor Stadium. With the Tiger offense struggling toward the later innings, victory seemed to momentarily slip out of Missouri’s grasp.
Walsh immediately responded, injecting the team with enthusiasm after locking down the remaining High Point batters, preventing them from grabbing a lead en route to an 8-7 victory.
“He gave up a homer but it didn’t matter,” freshman starter Rob Zastryzny. “He threw his butt off.”
Now, momentum appeared to be on the Tigers’ side. One run would win them the game. The High Point pitchers had their struggles, walking both junior outfielder Blake Brown and junior first baseman Scott Sommerfeld before senior catcher Ben Turner came to the plate. With two men on, Turner drilled a single past the infield, scoring Brown for the game-winner.
“Both Scott and Blake had good at-bats,” Turner said. “Going in there I felt I had a good idea of what he was throwing and what he had working and didn’t have working.”
After scoring the winning run, the Tiger bench rushed the field. It was clear that, after several blowout victories, a hard-earned win was a challenge for which many on the team were excited.
“It was the first time we’ve been tied with an opportunity to win it in the bottom of the ninth like that,” Turner said. “A lot of the guys were excited. They’ve had really good energy throughout this winning streak. That’s something that really helps us out when we’re out there battling.”
The win extends the Tigers’ winning streak to nine, the highest school total since the 2008 season, when the team started off the season 20-3 and reached a No. 2 national ranking. With the team responding so well to adversity, this year’s Tigers would like to replicate that success.
“(Walsh) gave us a chance to win it in the bottom of the ninth and we responded the right way,” coach Tim Jamieson said. “I think during this streak we’ve responded. Every time they do something we find a way to respond in a positive way.”
Jamieson said his squad will take more confidence coming away from the game heading into Big 12 Conference play in the upcoming weeks.
“We’re going to have to come out and play hard tomorrow,” he said. “They’re going to come after us. This is a great weekend for us before conference. Their name doesn’t mean anything; it’s how they’re playing. They’re getting after us and that’s what we need to get ready for conference.”
Missouri will take on High Point once more for game two of the three-game set at 2 p.m. Saturday at Taylor Stadium.