Junior right-hander Tanner Houck wasn’t sharp after a 10-day layoff, but it didn’t matter thanks to Missouri baseball’s thundering bats and junior reliever Andy Toelken in a 12-7 win that keeps flickering postseason hopes alive for coach Steve Bieser’s debut season.
The Tigers (36-21) entered an opening-round matchup Tuesday against Texas A&M at the SEC Baseball Tournament in Hoover, Ala., with the second-worst team batting average (.219) in conference play.
It profiled as a rough matchup with the Aggies, who boasted the top ERA (3.65) during the conference season.
Mizzou pounded out 12 runs on 11 hits, including three home runs, and benefited from seven walks in a lopsided win against A&M (36-21), which outscored Bieser’s bunch 25-4 in a three-game sweep last month in Columbia.
Two singles, a wild pitch, a walk and junior Trey Harris’ bases-loaded plunking helped the Tigers net two first-inning runs at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium.
The Aggies pounced for four runs against Houck, MU’s ace and a presumptive first-round pick in June’s amateur baseball draft, in the bottom of the inning.
Junior Matt Berler swatted a game-tying two-run homer in the second inning, only to see Mizzou fall behind again when A&M scratched out two more runs in the third.
With MU down 6-4, junior Robbie Glendinning powered the Tigers back in front with a grand slam.
Freshman Chris Cornelius hit a solo home run leading off the fifth inning, and Harris added an RBI single in the sixth before the game was delayed for an hour and 47 minutes because of lightning in the bottom of the inning with Mizzou leading 11-7.
With the Tigers shorthanded in the bullpen, Toelken returned after the delay despite having already pitched 1 1/3 innings.
“We know we’re short in the bullpen this week and complete games by starters or long relief out of the bullpen or anything like that is huge,” Toelken said in a postgame interview on the SEC Network. “We’ve just got to keep it going.”
To stay loose, Toelken did lunges and passed a football with pitching coach Patrick Hallmark in the interior of Hoover Stadium.
He promptly recorded the final out of the sixth inning before Glendinning’s RBI single in the seventh.
Houck was tagged for seven runs — six earned — and seven hits with four strikeouts against three walks and three hit batters in a season-low 4 1/3 innings.
Toelken sparkled with 4 2/3 scoreless innings. He struck out five, while scattering three hits and two walks en route to earning the win.
“I really had my change-up today, and I feel like that was the key to success,” he said.
The Tigers were without two pitchers, Michael Plassmeyer, who didn’t make the trip because of a death in the family, and T.J. Sikkema, who was suspended for the game after being ejected from the regular-season finale Saturday at Tennessee.
With the win, Mizzou moved into the eight-team, double-elimination portion of the tournament for only the second time and kept alive its hopes for an NCAA regional berth.
Sikkema is expected to start Wednesday’s second-round matchup against No. 2 seed LSU.
The Tigers probably need to win at least two more games to improve their RPI and earn a spot in the field.