Missouri blows past Kentucky late, clinches home weekend series

Junior Peter Zimmermann led the way Sunday afternoon with a home run and 3 RBIs for the Tigers.
Junior Peter Zimmermann misses the hit against Kentucky at Taylor Stadium, April 5, 2019, in Columbia, Missouri. Photo by Photographer Marco Storel

After the tense, back-and-forth struggle that defined the first two games of the baseball series between Missouri and Kentucky this past weekend, it made sense to expect something similar as the teams met for the final time on Sunday afternoon.

For the first six innings on a beautiful afternoon at Taylor Stadium, that was exactly what happened. But in the seventh, the game broke open as the Tigers (22-11-1, 5-6-1) exploded for five runs to finalize a 9-2 scoreline and win the series as Kentucky (17-15, 2-10) faded and collapsed.

Junior T.J. Sikkema had an impressive day on the mound for Missouri, striking out a career-high 11 batters over seven innings, but it wasn’t all smooth sailing early on. Kentucky leadoff man Austin Schultz hit a home run on the second pitch of the game to put Kentucky up 1-0. Senior Ryan Shinn went yard as well in the fourth to even the contest at 2-2.

After each home run, Sikkema was able to steady himself and keep the Wildcat lineup under control. He finished the afternoon with just two hits allowed apart from the two home runs to go along with his heap of strikeouts.

“Every single time [Sikkema] goes on the mound, we think he’s going to hold them,” junior Kameron Misner said. “As an offense, we try to get as many runs as we can and let T.J. do his thing and that usually works out.”

The Missouri offense first broke through in the third, when junior Peter Zimmermann hit a sharp grounder that Kentucky third baseman Coltyn Kessler couldn’t corral. Senior Paul Gomez and junior Chris Cornelius crossed home plate as the ball ricocheted into the outfield.

Zimmermann came through again in the fifth, this time without the aid of a defensive error. His single brought Gomez and sophomore Thomas Broyles home to score as the Tigers went up 4-2.

“[Zimmermann] was really good this weekend and I liked the disciplined approach,” Missouri coach Steve Bieser said. “He’s really in tune to how the opponent’s going to work him, and he’ll wait the at-bat out.”

Sikkema continued to keep Kentucky at bay before the inexperienced Wildcat bullpen unraveled in the seventh. Misner and Zimmermann took freshman reliever Hunter Rigsby deep to start off the inning. Another freshman arm, Cole Daniels, didn’t fare much better. Daniels allowed three runs via a bunt, balk and a wild pitch before finally escaping the frame.

“That was a really good swing,” Bieser said of Misner’s home run. “It was good to see him stay through the baseball. The first couple of at-bats, he was kind of pulling off just a little bit.”

The back-to-back home runs became the latest chapter in a rivalry between Missouri and Kentucky that has blossomed in recent years. Misner’s hit, which bounced off the roof of the indoor football facility in right field, was likely the farthest anyone has hit a ball out of Taylor Stadium this season, and Zimmermann made a point of saluting the visitors’ dugout as he trotted toward home plate after his long ball.

“This has been one of our rivalries in the SEC,” Bieser said. “It’s been knock-down, drag-out series for the last three years. It usually gets decided on the last day… that’s why the teams go after each other.”

The series win leaves Missouri in third place in the SEC East and solidly in the NCAA Tournament picture, but some of the Tigers’ toughest tests still await. Louisiana State, a consensus top-15 team in the nation, will arrive in Columbia for a three-game set next weekend.

“We’ve got a little momentum going,” Bieser said. “But we’ve got to really start the preparation, make sure we’re ready for one of the most dangerous teams in the country. When they’re on, and they’re playing well, they might be the No. 1 team in the country.”

Before taking a crack at LSU, Missouri will first face a trip to Edwardsville, Illinois on Tuesday night to take on SIU-Edwardsville. First pitch in the nonconference matchup is set for 6 p.m.

Edited by Adam Cole | acole@themaneater.com

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