Missouri’s hitting struggles took an ugly turn in Thursday’s series opener against Tennessee.
The Tigers struck out 21 times, setting a new Tennessee school record, but it took just one hit to change the outlook of Missouri’s season.
Alex Samples stepped to the plate in the bottom of the 12th inning with Matt Berler on second and Trey Harris on first. To that point, Missouri was 2 for 11 with runners in scoring position.
Samples sent a Garrett Stallings pitch up the middle, bringing home Berler for the 3-2 win over Tennessee.
“As soon as it got through the infield, I knew Matty was going to score and all I had to do was touch first,” Samples said. “Can’t describe the emotions. It was awesome.”
Samples’ single did more than give him a senior memory in one of his last games on Simmons Field. It moved Missouri one step closer to the Southeastern Conference Tournament. Missouri needs to win just one of the final two games against Tennessee to clinch a berth in Hoover, Ala.
“We knew it was a must-win game,” Samples said. “It was huge. Being the guy that got the opportunity to do it, I’m so thankful for, but it doesn’t happen if you don’t have Brian Sharp having an outstanding at-bat and getting on base. Berler beating out a double play and Trey taking the intentional walk.”
While Missouri struggled to bring runners in to score, it got another impressive performance from T.J. Sikkema against the Vols.
Sikkema’s second career start came at Tennessee last year. He pitched a complete-game shutout.
On Thursday, he continued to have the Vols’ number. He pitched seven innings, gave up six hits, one run, struck out eight batters and did not walk a batter.
It was his first start without a walk this season, and the first time he accomplished that feat since last year’s start against Tennessee on May 18, 2017.
He’s given up just one run in two appearances against the Vols.
That run came in the top of the sixth inning. With Missouri leading 1-0, Pete Derkay came through with a RBI single to score Justin Ammons.
Derkay’s RBI tied the game at 1, but with just one out, Tennessee had a chance to change that. Andre Lipcius doubled to right field, after Missouri outfielder Trey Harris seemed to lose the ball in the lights.
With Derkay on third base and Lipcius on second with one out, Sikkema settled in. Sikkema struck out Evan Russell on the next at-bat and forced Brodie Leftridge to fly out to center field.
As much as Missouri struggled to hit with runners in scoring position, Tennessee struggled, as well. The Vols were 2 for 15 with runners in scoring position.
A Brett Bond single in the bottom of the sixth inning gave Missouri the lead right back.
Tennessee tied the game in the top of the eighth inning on a Brodie Leftridge single. From there, Missouri and Tennessee traded chances, but neither could come through with the breakthrough.
That was, until Samples came up big.
Missouri has talked about what this series means. Coach Steve Beiser hasn’t hid it from the team, and now the Tigers just need to split the final two games to keep their season going.
“Getting Game 1 helps, but the one thing you can’t do is relax and think that it’s over, we still have a lot of work to do,” Beiser said.