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May 10, 2009

Tigers win with walk-off homer

No one covers Tiger athletics like PowerMizzou.com. This year, we've added baseball coverage to our top-notch football and basketball beats. To follow the Tigers year-round, sign up today to start your Free Seven-Day Trial.

Who would've thunk it? That's what Missouri fans at Taylor Stadium had on their minds Sunday. Who would've pictured the smallest guy on the team, little 5-foot-8 Ryan Ampleman, sending a fastball over the fence to give the Tigers a walk-off victory over bitter rival Kansas (35-18, 13-11).

"Yeah (I thought he could do it)," Ryan Lollis said. "He is an amazing little ball of iron. He is strong. He has come up for Trevor (Coleman), and it's like he never left. It's the best feeling you could ever imagine. Awesome."

After the worst meltdown of the season in the top of ninth, the Tigers (30-23, 16-11) responded with their biggest hit of the season. Taking a 12-7 lead into the ninth, Missouri fans started to pack up their belongings. This one was over for sure. Then one run scored. It's alright. They had one out and a four-run cushion. That chatter soon turned to the reality that Brad Buehler was surrounded by Jayhawks at every base and staring Kansas' slugger Tony Thompson right in the face at home. With one swing, the game was tied. The outfielders never moved as a few quiet gasps broke out among the fans. What just happened?

After giving up a triple, coach Tim Jamieson put in side-armer Phil McCormick. McCormick didn't disappoint and struck out his first batter and then escaped the inning with a fly ball to right. Suddenly, Missouri had another chance to win the game.

"All I really wanted to do was throw it down the middle," McCormick said. "Contact is the name of the game when you're coming into that situation. You just want to hopefully get a ground ball. The strikeout was unbelievable, and I was so glad Lolly got to camp under that ball in right. I was just real excited and glad we got the chance to win."

Steve Gray was the first up and sent a ball to the warning track in center causing the crowd to say "Wouldn't that have been something?" While the crowd was busy talking about Gray's at-bat, "Amp" stepped to the plate and did the unthinkable. He hit his first career college home run and gave Missouri their second Sunday walk-off victory over the Jayhawks at Taylor Stadium.

"I just… tell you what. I can't really explain it. As soon as I saw it, it was just unreal. Cloud Nine type thing you know," Ampleman said while catching his breath after the game.

So what was Ampleman's reward? Shaving cream in the face provided by Ryan Lollis, a piggy-back ride from Aaron Senne and his entire team mobbing him at home plate.

"They were suffocating me man," Ampleman said laughing. "It took five minutes to get my breath. I will take that for a win like that."

The Tigers played with a sense of urgency from the very beginning of the game. After a passed ball gave the Jayhawks a 1-0 lead in the first, Missouri put three on the board in their half. After Austin Holt lined out to begin the game, Missouri rattled off four-straight hits. During the stretch, Senne picked up a R.B.I. and Kyle Mach extended his hit streak to 13 games with a R.B.I. of his own.

Missouri would send seven batters to the plate in the first and had a repeat performance in the second. Once again, the Tigers would put up seven batters and three runs. Lollis drove in two with a double, and Greg Folgia picked up a R.B.I. on his second hit of the day.

Tiger starter Nick Tepesch looked strong on the mound for Missouri and retired nine straight before giving up a lead-off walk to Robby Price to begin the fourth. Price would score on a base hit by Buck Afenir, and KU would add another run on a wild pitch. The Jayhawks would score three runs on either passed balls or wild pitches.

"Ampleman is still trying to work his way into shape," Jamieson said. "Sundays are tough for him. This is the second Sunday for him, and he was really tired last Sunday against Nebraska. I think it was a little bit of fatigue."

In the fourth, Missouri would send seven more batters to the plate with the result of three runs once again. Lollis continued to smash the ball and this time added a triple to his resume, leaving him a home run shy of the cycle for the game. On the play, Holt would show off his speed and almost catch Michael Liberto on the base paths.

The Tigers would get out of trouble in the fifth when Liberto made a shoe-lace catch and tagged out the runner at second for a double play with the bases loaded. They would avoid danger again in the seventh. After one runner scored to make it 9-7, Jamieson brought in Buehler who induced a ground ball from Thompson.

Missouri would add three more runs over the course of the seventh and eighth innings and seemed to have the victory locked up before the ninth inning fireworks. According to Jamieson, he will take the win any way Missouri can get it.

"Winning the series was the most important," he said. "I don't care how it happened. Really I don't. Just winning the series and 16-11 in the league. I am pretty confident we are going to finish no worst than third place. It's been a tough year, but it's been a great year in terms of where we are right now."

With the win, Missouri assured itself a top-five finish in the Big 12 and made sure they would finish ahead of the Jayhawks. The victory all but locked up a NCAA Tournament berth in the process. With the Tigers finished in Big 12 play, they will wait to see how the top teams in the conference perform next weekend.

At this point, Missouri has a chance to finish in the top three. After starting the season 1-7 and struggling through non-conference play, it seemed as if Missouri would be hard pressed to make the NCAA Tournament. After today, they are just waiting to see where they will play.

Who would've thought little Ryan Ampleman would hit a walk-off home run. Maybe the question should be: Who would've thought Missouri would finish in the top half of the Big 12?

No one covers Tiger athletics like PowerMizzou.com. This year, we've added baseball coverage to our top-notch football and basketball beats. To follow the Tigers year-round, sign up today to start your Free Seven-Day Trial.

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