Junior Brett Graves delivered another strong start for Missouri (9-7, 1-0 Southeastern Conference), and the offense came around late to pick up the 5-2 win over Baseball America’s No. 17 Tennessee (15-2, 0-1 SEC).
Graves gutted out seven innings, allowing seven hits and stranding seven baserunners.
Two mistakes accounted for the damage against him, as a double by left fielder Christin Stewart drove in the first run in the fourth, and a homer by right fielder Scott Price in the seventh.
“It was pretty obvious I didn’t have my best stuff,” said Graves, “but everybody kept supporting me. Whether it was the guys on the bench, the offense, or the defense, which played great, I think that was the biggest thing.”
The offense had some solid contact and big hits early, but managing to press through a run on Tennessee starter Nick Williams proved challenging.
Senior right fielder Eric Anderson led the game off with a triple cracked over the center fielder’s full-extension leap, only to be easily thrown out on the next play attempting to score on a ground ball to first base.
“It was a mistake,” coach Tim Jamieson said. “We weren’t going on contact, it was a read the play situation with nobody out. You can overcome it, but in the SEC you don’t want to make mistakes. To make one in the first inning that cost us a run was frustrating.”
The following inning, senior Dylan Kelly worked a leadoff walk, renewing the scoring threat. The Tigers did not manage to put the ball in play following Kelly, however, as two strikeouts and a foul popup left him standing at first.
Missouri continued to abandon runners over the next three innings, only able to bend Williams. A one-out single, one-out double, and leadoff single were all spoiled.
About the early offense, Jamieson said, “The one thing we did do was build up the pitch count, and make that guy work hard. Maybe he got out of the game an inning before they wanted him to leave.”
This became key in the seventh when, down 2-0, the Tigers retaliated, driving three runs across with the help of the Tennessee defense.
Sophomore third baseman Zach Lavy started the rally off with a single, advancing to second when senior left fielder Dillon Everett was hit by a pitch. Freshman center fielder Jake Ring stepped up in the first SEC game of his career, singling to right to drive in Lavy, then Everett after the throw rolled into the dugout.
The Tigers rolled from there. Ring scored on a sac fly to put them ahead one. The next inning, a single and two doubles brought in two more, and another runner left in scoring position proved irrelevant.
Junior Keaton Steele closed the game out with a two inning save, thanks in part to the Vols’ own inability to bring in two runners in the ninth.
Missouri's doubleheader against Tennessee today starts at 1 p.m.