March 1, 2008

Around the Bases

Around the Bases

Deep pitching pulls No. 12 Missouri past California

By Chris Hadorn

Thanks to the effort of one of the deepest pitching staffs in the country, the No. 12 Missouri Tigers held off a late charge by the California Golden Bears to win 7-5 Friday afternoon at San Diego State’s Tony Gwynn Stadium.

“It felt we were losing the second half of the game,” Missouri head coach Tim Jamieson said. “Fortunately we had a big enough lead to begin with to hold on.” 

Making their first appearance in the University of San Diego Tournament, the Tigers  (4-1) attracted a hoard of big-league scouts who came to see ace starting pitcher Aaron Crow (pictured left, photo by Chris Hadorn). Almost all of the scouting contingent left by the middle innings to watch San Diego’s Brian Matusz on the other side of town after Crow labored through the Golden Bears lineup.

Crow, the preseason All-American, had a rough go in the first inning when he surrendered a two-run, opposite-field home run to California slugger David Cooper, his fifth blast in five games. Cooper worked the count to 3-1 and mashed a high fastball to score designated hitter Rich Gorman. Cooper was 2 for 5 with three strikeouts and is batting .444 (8 for 18) this season with 15 RBI.

Fortunately for the Tigers, California did not counter with ace Tyson Ross, who was scratched because of tightness in his latissimus dorsi muscle. Sophomore southpaw Todd Fitzgerald was thrown to the fire and was pulled in the first after surrendering five runs on five hits and a walk. With the bases loaded and one out, sophomore left fielder Aaron Senne ripped a grand slam to right to get the Tigers on the board. The grand slam was the first of the season for Senne, who finished 2 for 4 with five RBI.

With a 5-2 lead, Crow settled down a little bit, tossing three consecutive scoreless innings and striking out 10 batters in five frames. At times, he looked like of the best hurlers in the country by overwhelming hitters with his filthy slider.  But California made him work and did a good job of hitting his fastball.  In the second inning, shortstop Michael Brady fouled off nine Crow offerings in a 13-pitch at-bat that ultimately ended up in a walk. 

“I thought we did a good job of making him use his off-speed pitch more than maybe he likes to,” Golden Bears head coach David Esquer said.   

In all, Crow allowed eight hits, two walks and three earned runs in a five-inning outing and was credited with his second win.

“He’s got to be better than that,” Jamieson said.  “He has dynamite stuff, but he’s still making too many mistakes up in the strike zone. He’s still trying to validate who is he as opposed to going out there and pitching.”

Missouri stretched its lead to 7-2 after four innings.  Senior Jacob Priday smacked a RBI double to left-center in the second inning, and Senne added a RBI single in the fourth. 

California added a run off Crow in the top of the fifth when center fielder Brett Jackson brought home Jeff Kobernus with a line-drive single to right.

In the top of the sixth, the Bears loaded the bases against the Missouri bullpen with one out. Things were looking bleak for California after lefty reliever Kelly Fick struck out Cooper. Senior Josh Satin carried Cooper’s slack by following with a huge two-out, two-run single to cut the Tigers’ lead to 7-5.

“The good thing for our team, Josh Satin right behind him [Cooper] got a base hit,” Esquer said.  “We got to be able to prove to him [Cooper] that he doesn’t have to shoulder the full load.  If he has a bad at-bat or so, we can pick him up.”

California would get two more opportunities to tie or win the game, but Missouri’s bullpen slammed the door shut. In the top of the eighth, the Golden Bears loaded the bases with one out. Tigers reliever Ryan Allen entered the game and got Safin to hit into a routine fielder’s choice. Jackson then worked the count to 3-1 but hit a weak ground ball to second to end the inning.

Bears catcher Dylan Tonneson singled in the ninth to bring the tying run to the plate, but Allen did a marvelous job of changing speeds on his fastballs to strike out the side, earning his first save of the season.

In addition to Senne’s heroics, sophomore catcher Trevor Coleman went 2 for 4 with two runs, and Priday went 3 for 5 with a double, run and RBI for the Tigers.