Tigers can’t survive Cats’ late-game surge, lose 4-2 in series opener

Missouri was limited to only six hits in the game.
Designed by Corey Hadfield

In his last two outings, senior Jordan Gubelman has surrendered two runs. The first, a sacrifice fly to Saint Louis University’s Jake Garella Tuesday, forced extra innings leading to a 10-inning win for Missouri baseball. His earned run Friday put the game out of reach.

In the top of the eighth inning, in the first of three games against Kentucky (17-13, 2-8 SEC), Wildcats’ center fielder Jaren Shelby hit a long home run over the Missouri bullpen. A no-doubter off the bat, Shelby admired his work before uncorking a bat flip. The homer put the Wildcats up two and put an exclamation point on a 4-2 game that Missouri (20-11-1, 3-6-1 SEC) let slip away.

Contrary to the final box score, it was the Tigers that held the momentum the majority of the contest. Behind five innings from junior Jacob Cantleberry, the team found a way to get out of jams to leave the Wildcats with one run going into the sixth inning.

Cantleberry gave up a single to begin the frame. On the first pitch of his at-bat, Kentucky designated hitter T.J. Collett hit a towering pop up into shallow left field. Camping under the ball junior Austin James had trouble finding the ball and missed it.

The error put runners on first and second. The next batter drove a ball down into the left field corner, scoring the two runners and ending Cantleberry’s outing. Gubelman would get through 1 2/3 innings before Shelby effectively called game with one swing of the bat.

“We need to play better defense behind [Cantleberry],” coach Steve Bieser said. “He didn’t have his best stuff tonight, but he should have gave up less runs than he gave up.”

Shelby’s bat flip on his home run in the eighth was the kind of showmanship that comes with the budding rivalry. Gubelman was visibly unhappy on the mound as Shelby rounded the bases. The two teams have history dating back to last year’s series in Lexington, Kentucky.

“If you’re talking about a rivalry, these are the two teams that really don’t care for each other,” Bieser said. “They’re going to do their things on our field, and it’s our home field, and we gotta protect our home field. We gotta play better at home.”

Behind in the all-time series 11-8, the Missouri offense wouldn’t shorten the deficit as it struggled after scoring its only two runs in the first inning.

With two outs in the first inning, junior Kameron Misner walked, then stole second. He was singled in by junior Peter Zimmermann. The Tigers designated hitter, who isn’t known for his speed, stole second. He scored on a single from sophomore Chad McDaniel.

From there, the Tigers’ offense struggled. The team stranded nine runners in the game. The only bright spot offensively was Misner’s 1-for-1, three walk night. The Poplar Bluff native is tied for the most walks in the NCAA with Oregon State’s Adley Rutschman at 39.

Misner wouldn’t get the opportunity to reach base for a fifth time. Down to its final three outs in the bottom of the ninth, Missouri had what Bieser described as “gritty” at-bats. James walked to open the inning. Freshman Josh Holt Jr. was hit by a pitch. Sophomore Thomas Broyles and freshman Cameron Swanger both worked full counts but struck out. With two outs and Misner in the on-deck circle, junior Chris Cornelius drove a ball into the right-center field gap and into the Shelby’s glove to end the game.

“We had the opportunities, we had baserunners, we just didn’t have any timely hitting at all tonight,” Bieser said. “We just didn’t execute a lot of stuff. We just had too many mistakes tonight.”

Edited by Emily Leiker | eleiker@themaneater.com

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