Sikkema records double-digit strikeouts over seven innings

With 11 strikeouts on the day, Sikkema set a new career-high in the category.

As T.J. Sikkema slid into his windup, arms popped up in the stands to track the pitch. Armed with radar guns, major league scouts came out in throngs Sunday to watch the junior southpaw pitch in Missouri baseball’s series finale against Kentucky.

On a picture-perfect, 75-degree afternoon, Sikkema didn’t make many mistakes. He began his seventh start of the season by giving up a home run to Kentucky second baseman Austin Schultz. Recovering quickly, he finished the first inning with a groundout, a walk and two strikeouts.

It took the Wildcats another seven batters to capitalize on a missed pitch. To open the fourth inning, Kentucky left fielder Ryan Shinn turned on a pitch left over the plate and deposited Sikkema’s dealing over the left field wall for the lefty’s second homer given up in the game.

Over the remainder of the outing, Sikkema would only give up two more hits while racking up a career-high 11 strikeouts and walking two. He earned his third win on the season, leading Missouri (22-11-1, 5-6-1 SEC) to a series-clinching 9-2 win.

“I thought he competed really well,” Missouri coach Steve Bieser said. “He’s a guy that everyone knows has very good command. He throws the ball through the strike zone and his stuff is really good. He was okay with pitching to contact early, and he did a really, really good job of staying in the zone.”

Prior to Sunday, Sikkema had not only been dominant in conference play, but made his opponents work for their runs. In 23 innings against Southeastern Conference teams, he’d given up nine runs while surrendering zero home runs.

Multiple scouts were impressed with Sikkema’s competitiveness and ability to throw breaking balls for strikes. A scout for the Miami Marlins commented on Sikkema’s toughness on the mound.

Just half an inning earlier, Sikkema had been struck in the shin with a line drive that kicked out to junior Chris Cornelius at shortstop who made an off-balance throw to record the out at first. After throwing a couple pitches off the mound as Bieser and an athletic trainer checked on him, he finished the inning.

Sikkema’s two earned runs over seven innings would be plenty for Missouri.

Juniors Kameron Misner and Peter Zimmermann led the way for the Tigers on offense, hitting back-to-back home runs in the bottom of the seventh. Zimmermann and Cornelius each had two hits. Along with the long ball, Missouri took advantage of four Kentucky errors, scoring seven unearned runs.

“As an offense we try to score as many runs as we can and just let T.J. do his thing,” Misner said.

Coming in for Sikkema in the top of the eighth, sophomore Ian Bedell took over, tossing two scoreless innings to finish the game.

A potential storyline throughout the series, Sikkema said after the game that he thought about hitting Kentucky outfielder Jaren Shelby with a pitch. He instead decided to pitch to Shelby — who had showboated two home runs earlier in the series – walking him twice and striking him out.

“If [Sikkema] wants to hit someone, he’ll hit him,” Misner said. “He’s not scared of anybody, and that’s why it’s fun to play behind him.”

Shelby’s home run antics were two of multiple demonstrations by both teams over the weekend that only perpetuated a rivalry that Sikkema said started in 2017.

“You could argue that I probably started [the rivalry] my freshman year,” Sikkema said. After a brief pause, he altered his statement.

“Yeah, I did start it,” he said.

Edited by Adam Cole |

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