COLUMBIA — The season came to an end for Missouri’s baseball team Tuesday night, but you can’t say the Tigers went down without a fight.
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
In a 17-inning affair that lasted nearly five hours — the longest game in MU baseball history — the Tigers fell to Mississippi State 2-1 in the first round of the Southeastern Conference tournament at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium in Hoover, Ala.
Much as it has all season, 12th-seeded Missouri — which dropped to 18-32 — received an impressive performance from its pitching staff only to be let down by its offense. The Tigers, who entered the game ranked last in the SEC in batting average (.248) and runs (195), collected 11 hits but failed to get the big hit it needed on multiple occasions, stranding 10 runners.
The same, however, can be said for a fifth-seeded Mississippi State, which racked up 16 hits but stranded 19 runners and simply couldn’t find a way to drive home the winning run until the bottom of the 17th, when catcher Mitch Slauter finally punched a two-out, game-winning RBI single to center off Missouri reliever Jake Walsh.
The result — which tied a 1994 showdown between Auburn and Arkansas as the longest in SEC tournament history — brought a disappointing end to the season for Missouri, which actually struck first in the top of the third inning, when Brannon Champagne singled off Mississippi State starter Trevor Fitts and eventually came home to score on a throwing error.
Missouri starting pitcher Rob Zastryzny made that lead stand until the fifth inning, when a pair of singles put runners on first and second for Mississippi State star Hunter Renfroe, who knotted the score at 1-1 with an RBI single up the middle.
That was all the Bulldogs would score against Zastryzny, however, as the left-hander only allowed only one run on seven hits while striking out seven in nine innings (and 124 pitches).
Zastryzny’s replacement, first baseman Keaton Steele, promptly picked up where Missouri’s ace left off, however, firing seven consecutive shutout innings from the 10th to the 16th, though he had to escape a few jams along the way.
One particularly perilous situation came in the bottom of the 16th, when Mississippi State’s Brett Pirtle — who already had stranded six base-runners in the game — came to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs.
Missouri, however, escaped unscathed when second baseman Kendall Keeton — who arguably saved the game with a diving stop to his right the batter before — made another impressive defensive display, this time ranging to his left to retrieve a hard grounder and firing the ball to first to nail a diving Pirtle and end the inning.
But Mississippi State, which used six pitchers, finally pushed the game-winning run across the next inning, when Kyle Hann — who pinch-ran after a leadoff walk by Walsh — scored from second on Slauter’s single.
With the win, Mississippi State improves to 41-16 and advances to the next round, where fourth-seeded South Carolina awaits today as the tournament shifts to a double-elimination format.