The Maneater

Trey Harris sparks Missouri bats to 8-2 win over nemesis Missouri State in flagship faceoff

Harris, Missouri’s veteran outfielder, cranked a go-ahead two-run homer in the fifth to lead the Tigers to victory.

An announced crowd of 2,331 looks on as Missouri takes on Missouri State at Taylor Stadium.

In the fifth inning of a fight for the right to Missouri’s flagship baseball school title, the flags at Taylor Stadium weren’t beating as harshly as usual in right-center field.

The warm weather had settled things down at a ballpark whose winds usually face inward. But for the moment, Trey Harris wasn’t thinking about that as he stepped into the batter’s box.

Leadoff hitter and starting pitcher Brian Sharp stood on first base with one out. To the confusion of the announced crowd of 2,331 at Taylor Stadium, Missouri’s senior right fielder with a slugging percentage of .494 showed bunt early in the at-bat. He floated one backward but beyond the reach of Missouri State’s catcher for a harmless foul ball.

Then he brought back his bat to swing away.

“Sometimes it’s tougher when you’ve got to string three or four hits together,” he said later addressing the wind. “But it’s nice to know that sometimes you can just plop one over the fence.”

Harris lifted a go-ahead two-run home run to right-center field and lifted the Tigers to an 8-2 win over the Bears on Tuesday night in front of the second largest Taylor Stadium crowd of the 2018 season.

“Honestly it was just one of those things: Get on base because Zach [Hanna] was smacking the ball all night,” Harris said. “They were playing really far back because I’m not known to bunt. I felt like I was struggling a little bit at the plate. It evolved from trying to battle, then I got something that I got with the barrel.”

With the win, Missouri (28-13) completed a two-game season sweep of its in-state rival after having lost six straight to the Bears entering 2018. Sharp was the winning pitcher, tossing five innings of two-run ball and accounting for the tying run on Harris’ fifth-inning homer that catapulted the Tigers ahead for good.

“There are some recruiting battles as well,” head coach Steve Bieser said of the rivalry. “Missouri State, they’ve got an excellent facility there, and they can recruit to that really well, and they’ve had a lot of success.

“I believe it’s time for us to be the flagship university.”

To get there, the Tigers would have to battle back after Sharp gave up a two-run shot of his own in the first inning to Ben Whetstone. It would’ve done more damage if not for some miscommunicated baserunning from Missouri State and an unusual 3-6-2 double play turned by the Tigers on the previous batter.

With runners on second and third, Missouri didn’t bring its infield in, nonverbally sacrificing a run for an out. But on a deep bouncer to first, the lead runner stayed stationary while the one trailing took off for third. First baseman Brett Bond stepped on the bag for the out and fired to second too late to catch the retreating runner, but it prompted the lead break for the plate, where he was retired by another throw across the diamond.

Sharp proceeded to settle in after the homer for four scoreless frames. The Tigers got a run back in the fourth on back-to-back doubles from freshmen Chad McDaniel and Cade Bormet.

And after taking the lead an inning later, Missouri added insurance in the sixth when senior Alex Samples doubled into the right-center gap to drive in a run, stole third to draw the infield in, then scored on a Matt Berler single through the left side. Berler drove in another insurance run in the eighth with a double.

The Tigers’ eight doubles on the night were the most they’ve compiled in a single game since March 14, 2007, against St. Louis.

But it was Harris who transformed lethargy to vivacity on an evening that seemed to be spiraling toward indolence for the Missouri offense early on. Harris hit his seventh home run of the season the opposite way, strutted around the bases, stomped on home plate and enlivened Taylor Stadium.

“A couple weeks ago I said I was gonna do that,” Harris said, referring to his stomp at the plate. “Missouri State finds a way to talk trash even when the game has nothing. We walk into there sometimes and they’re saying the nastiest things. It was just a big moment for me and the team.”

He also nagged back at his nemeses in the eighth; he stole second and third base — drawing a throw that allowed a run to score — and scored himself on another double.

“It’s always the fans, parents, students … the people trying to do the most,” Harris said. “If you stuck to the nine on the field, it would be a really clean game. We don’t go out there throwing our Friday night, but it’s cool. We won.”

Prior to that surge, Missouri harbored a crowd that had been inspired if not invigorated. It’s on Us brought out the MU community en masse, including numerous athletes from the school’s football, men’s and women’s basketball teams. It’s a cause that Bieser is always eager to promote.

“I thought it was a big hit last year, and it grew this year and was even better this year,” he said. “We packed the stadium, and it was just a good night overall to have our student-athletes here.”

Next up for Missouri is a three-game set against the No. 15 Kentucky Wildcats starting Friday in Lexington, Kentucky. First pitch is set for 5:30 p.m.

Edited by Joe Noser | jnoser@themaneater.com

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