Mizzou Baseball opens season with doubleheader sweep over Iona

By Joey Gjata, 23 Sports

Friday, Feb. 13-

At the USA Baseball Complex in Cary, N.C. the Mizzou Tigers baseball team defeated the Iona Gaels in a season opening doubleheader for their first 2-0 start since 2008. It took a late comeback and a walk-off walk to steal game one 4-3, followed by a sublime pitching performance to prevail as 1-0 winners in game two.

Missouri featured junior Peter Fairbanks on the mound in game one. The St. Louis native pitched six innings of quality baseball striking out a career-high nine batters and allowing only two soft runs, which came off a sacrifice fly and a passed ball. Although Fairbanks merited a win, the no-decision will undoubtedly give the 6’6” righty a positive start coming off a 4-7 record last season.

The Tiger bats remained silent until the fifth inning when sophomore catcher Jack Klages drew a two out walk before second baseman Brett Peel laced one of his three hits down the left field line for a double. However, Gaels’ ace Bill Maier forced ensuing batter Jake Ring to chop it right back to him to get out of the jam.

The sixth inning would be the last for Fairbanks who eclipsed 100 pitches as he retired Iona in order. He finished with three 1-2-3 innings along with overcoming an almost agonizing two out fielding error in the fifth. Out of the bullpen, John Miles struggled giving up another run in the seventh to extend the Iona lead to 3-0.

Strong relief outings for specialist Austin Tribby in the seventh and eighth and closer Breckin Williams in the ninth gave the Mizzou offense one last chance to trim the deficit. In the seventh, senior Jake Ivory crossed home plate for the first Tiger run of 2015 thanks to a sacrifice grounder by Klages. Later, Ring redeemed himself with a scorching RBI-single to make it 3-2.

In the eighth, third baseman Josh Lester drew a walk then skipped his way to third on a two-base wild pitch. First baseman Zach Lavy finally got in on the slugging as his RBI-single knotted things up at three. However, back-to-back strikeouts ended the frame for Missouri.

In the intense and final frame, Peel blooped his final hit of the day between a pair of walks which loaded the bases. Lester was up next and fell behind 0-2 before battling back to run the count full. On the tenth pitch of the AB, the Georgia native drew the walk-off walk for Mizzou.

In game two, it was much less nail-biting despite a tight 1-0 scoreline. Junior college transfer, Reggie McClain, stole the show with eight scoreless innings. The junior cooked up a career-high 10 strikeouts and avoided even a single walk. McClain cruised through the first five innings, using double plays, pickoffs and even striking out the side in 10 pitches to keep his pitch count consistently low.

The only offense of game two came in the fifth when freshman catcher Brett Bond roped his first career collegiate base hit and RBI all with one swing of the bat. Freshman DH, Trey Harris scored on the Bond base knock.

From there, it was all McClain needed to keep the Gaels silent. He fanned one final batter and worked around a fielding error to complete his sensational outing. After getting the win in game one, Williams was called upon again in the final inning of game two, but this time to shut the door. The closer struck out the first two he faced which gave Mizzou its 24th strikeout of the doubleheader. With two down and the bases empty, Williams forced a harmless grounder back to the mound to seal an impressive doubleheader victory for the Black and Gold.

The quality starting pitching will be something of a treasure for Missouri in the early going as it prepares for a long stretch of games in a short period of time before SEC play. The Tigers will stay in the southeast for another doubleheader against Iona on Valentine’s Day–Saturday, Feb. 14. Game one will begin at 10 a.m. with freshman Tanner Houck on the mound before junior Alec Rash takes the rubber in the second leg tentatively set for 4 p.m.