James walks off Kentucky, sets up rubber match

The third baseman continued his hot hitting with a game-winning liner in the ninth.
Designed by Corey Hadfield

With two outs in the ninth inning of a tied baseball game, Missouri sophomore Thomas Broyles stepped to the plate with a runner on second. Pinch-hitting for Clayton Peterson, it was the outfielder’s chance to shine in one of the biggest moments of the season. At least, it would have been if he had gotten the opportunity.

Kentucky elected to intentionally walk Broyles, bringing up junior third baseman Austin James.

James said he was amused by the intentional free pass, despite the insulting implication that Kentucky considered him less of a threat than Broyles.

“I thought it was funny,” he said. “I liked it. It was no big deal.”

James took a cut at the third pitch he saw in the at-bat and sent it into left field. It dropped just in front of Ryan Shinn’s dive, sending Connor Brumfield home with the winning run and a sea of gold jerseys streaming out of the dugout to mob him. The 5-4 win set up Missouri’s (21-11-1, 4-6-1 SEC) rubber match with Kentucky (17-14, 2-9 SEC) on Sunday.

“It felt really good,” James said. “I was just happy I could contribute to another win. A lot of guys did a lot of good things today. I’m just glad I could be a part of that.”

Senior Tyler Laplante got the start on the mound for MU and outdueled Kentucky’s ace Zack Thompson, going 5.1 innings while allowing no runs on two hits and six strikeouts. All six of the strikeouts came consecutively between the first and third inning.

“Fastball, curveball, changeup, slider, my fifth knuckle-split thing, I was getting swings and misses on all of it,” he said. “Today was definitely the best that it had felt.”

Laplante’s day, however came to an unexpected end in the sixth. On a pitch to designated hitter T.J. Collett, the left-hander felt his throwing elbow tighten up. After talking with trainer Brett Sigley, pitching coach Fred Corral and coach Steve Bieser, he agreed it was best to leave the game. It was a precautionary measure and Laplante believes the injury won’t hinder him in the future.

“I’m feeling alright,” he said. “I’m just mostly excited that we pulled out the win. At this point, we’re just going to take it a day at a time and see how it’s going.”

After a quiet start offensively for Missouri, the lineup got to Thompson in the fourth. Centerfielder Kameron Misner led off with a sharp single up the middle and the next batter, designated hitter Peter Zimmermann, launched Thompson’s 0-1 offering down the left field line and past starting left fileder Breydon Daniel. Misner motored around the bases for the first run of the game.

Mizzou struck again in the sixth. Freshman outfielder Josh Holt Jr. took a pitch off the back of his helmet to take first base and advanced to second on a wild pitch, then to third when UK second baseman Grant Macciocchi couldn’t handle Chris Cornelius’ grounder. Misner struck out, bringing up Zimmermann in another high-leverage situation. This time, Zimmermann showed some finesse, laying down a bunt to score Holt.

“That was the first time I’ve bunted in six years,” Zimmermann said. “Coach Bieser came up to me. He said ‘Hey, you want to do a fake squeeze try to get that guy to second or do you think you can get this run in for sure on the bunt?’ I said ‘Coach, I can do it,’ and that’s what I did.”

The next batter, sophomore catcher Chad McDaniel ripped one through the left side to score Cornelius and put the Tigers up by three.

Following Laplante’s injury, Konnor Ash came in to pitch for Mizzou. The sophomore surrendered a home run to Coltyn Kessler in the seventh, but the real damage came two innings later.

Friday night, Kentucky center fielder Jaren Shelby hit a long homer over the bullpen in left field, admired his shot and flipped his bat before jogging around the bases. On Saturday, he took Ash deep, once again to left, to give the Wildcats a 4-3 lead.

“We were in a situation where you had to challenge him,” Bieser said. “We probably didn’t challenge him in the right part of the strike zone. We missed a little bit with our location and good hitters make you pay whenever you make mistakes.”

It didn’t take long for Mizzou to respond. Senior infielder Paul Gomez led off the bottom of the eighth with a homer of his own, just his second career for Missouri.

Art Joven and Cameron Dulle pitched the top of the ninth for Missouri. Joven walked Kessler to start the inning, but Dulle got a strikeout and a groundout to end the inning, setting up James’ heroics in the bottom of the inning.

“They threw some punches and we threw punches back,” Zimmermann said. “That’s all that happened today and I’m proud of our team.”

Edited by Adam Cole | acole@themaneater.com

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