Missouri storms past K-State on backs of Springer, James

Austin James had three hits as Mizzou downed the Wildcats.
Missouri baseball's Austin James sets to step into a pitch during an at-bat in a 17-2 win over Kansas State on Wednesday, April 3, 2019.

It’s been a frustrating spring for junior Austin James.

After beginning the year as Missouri’s starting third baseman and batting in the middle of the lineup, the transfer from State College of Florida struggled at the plate, beginning the season 1-for-21 and eventually losing his job to senior utility infielder Paul Gomez.

With starting shortstop Chris Cornelius scratched before Wednesday’s game against Kansas State (12-18, 1-5 Big 12), James got an unexpected chance to contribute in the lineup. He didn’t waste the opportunity, going 3-for-4 with a mammoth home run past the scoreboard in left field. Mizzou (20-10-1, 3-5-1 SEC) cruised to a 17-2 victory.

“I just tried to think back on previous success and what [I] was doing then and I thought back to this fall and watched some video on myself and tried to imitate it,” James said. “It worked out.”

Freshman pitcher Tommy Springer made his second career start. In five innings of work, he allowed just one hit and struck out seven, many of those punchouts coming on his secondary, offspeed pitches.

“His breaking ball was going for him,” Missouri coach Steve Bieser said. “He got off to a slow start with his command, but when guys got on base, he was really able to make some big pitches to get himself out of trouble there early.”

Offensively, it didn’t take long for MU to get going. Sophomore Thomas Broyles led off the game with a base on balls. A balk moved him to second and a deep fly ball off the bat of sophomore catcher Chad McDaniel brought him to third. Junior center fielder Kameron Misner then singled up the middle for the game’s first run. Broyles drove in a run of his own the next inning. The opportunistic offense was a stark contrast to Missouri’s performance the night before when it stranded 14 runners in an extra-inning win against Saint Louis.

“There’s no excuse for some of the offensive lapses we’ve had,” Bieser said. “We’ve got to make sure that we’re engaged in every pitch, and you really saw that today in the first half of the game, and I thought we did a really good job of carrying it all the way through even though we didn’t score in the second half of the game, but I thought the at-bats were really special today.”

Mizzou put up 15 runs in the next three innings, six of them courtesy of James. Senior first baseman Tony Ortiz drove in four, two of which came on a double off the right field wall. At one point in the sixth inning, seven consecutive Tigers reached base.

“I think it was just more confidence and just finding our pitches to hit and not fouling them off today,” Ortiz said. “We fouled balls off earlier, and we were barreling them up [today].”

Kasey Ford started the game for the Wildcats, but he only lasted two innings before being pulled for Caleb Littlejim. Littlejim only made it one inning before Jaxon Passino replaced him. In total, K-State went through seven pitchers. Only one, senior Mitch Zubradt, retired MU in order.

“It’s the same approach,” Ortiz said. “Everybody’s got a fastball, so just hit the fastball, and if something else happens, just hit it.”

After Springer exited the game, Bieser went to lefty freshman Trae Robertson for the sixth inning. Sophomore Trey Dillard, sophomore Cameron Pferrer and junior Lukas Veinbergs took the seventh, eighth and ninth respectively. The final trio had thrown just a combined 11 innings entering the game, making this game an ideal time for Bieser to get them action and save the relievers he leans on more often.

“The plan was to stay away from [Ian] Bedell and [Konnor] Ash and make sure that we got the rest of the guys,” Bieser said. “We didn’t want to use [Cameron] Dulle, Bedell, Ash, the guys we’ve been using really hard on weekends. We wanted to make sure we gave them a break.”

Missouri will be back in action on Friday at 6:30 p.m. CDT against the Kentucky Wildcats with junior left-handed pitcher Jacob Cantleberry starting on the mound.

Edited by Emily Leiker | eleiker@themaneater.com

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