Ortiz, James power Tigers to sweep of Northwestern
With Luke Mann on second base, Kameron Misner on first and nobody out in the sixth inning, Chris Cornelius laid an excellent bunt down the first-base line. Though Northwestern pitcher Nick Paciorek threw wide, Cornelius was called out for running out of the base paths, and the runners were ordered back to their bags as the sacrifice attempt went awry.
Then with Chad McDaniel at the plate, a wild pitch promptly moved both runners up, anyway. Mann, Misner and McDaniel all went on to score in the inning.
It was like that for most of Sunday’s series finale, a 9-4 Missouri win that capped a three-game sweep of Northwestern (4-9). The Tigers (9-5) hit well enough and caught enough breaks to get the win, despite committing four errors of their own in the field.
Tony Ortiz kept his power stroke with a long, three-run homer in the first inning, and Austin James matched him later with a two-run shot. Ortiz’s three homers this season have all come in the past two games, and Sunday’s three-run blast banged off Devine Pavilion beyond the wall in right center field, 420 feet from the plate.
“I was sitting curveball, and he hung it, and I hit it,” Ortiz said. "I knew I got that one.”
The blast put Missouri up 4-2, but Northwestern’s Jack Dunn answered in the fourth. With two Wildcats in scoring position, he snuck a centrally-located curveball from lefty Tyler LaPlante up the middle for a game-tying base hit.
James’ pinch-hit, two-run homer in the fifth broke the 4-4 tie and kept Missouri in the lead permanently. James, hitting just .147, said that the long ball felt “really good."
"It’s been a slow start, but hopefully that turns things around,” James said.
The slow start for James and Missouri's lineup as a whole seems to be wearing off, as the Tigers welcomed back their power stroke during a three-game series in which they scored 28 runs.
Sunday's blasts were the fifth and sixth homers the Tigers have hit in the past two games, a welcome sight for Steve Bieser’s ballclub at a home park that rarely plays so well for hitters. Saturday’s windy game aided some fly balls, while Sunday’s calmer conditions simply failed to stop the Tigers’ two well-struck long balls.
While hitting their homers, the Tigers refused to allow any to Northwestern. LaPlante improved on last Saturday’s short start against South Dakota State, making it through six solid innings. He was hurt by a pair of errors in the first inning — including his own rushed throw on a surprise double steal that Northwestern pulled — and victimized by Dunn’s ground ball in the fourth that found the light-colored outfield grass.
LaPlante, who threw exactly 100 pitches, departed after the Tigers stretched their lead to 9-4 in the bottom of the sixth. In the inning, Mann scored on a wild pitch, Misner scored on reliever Nick Paciorek’s fielding error and Mark Vierling laid down a beautiful safety squeeze to score McDaniel.
Sophomore righty Ian Bedell finished out the game for Missouri, which had none of the relief difficulties that plagued the Tigers on Saturday. Bedell pitched three scoreless innings in relief of LaPlante to earn the save and the sweep.
Bieser pointed out that the series was the first weekend in which things finally went the Tigers’ way. His players were happier for it.
“I don’t think it matters who we play,” Ortiz said. “I think it’s just getting wins, getting confidence back in our offense and we did that this series, so that was big.”
For the senior first baseman, it was simply nice to play baseball again on a sunny day void of cold, gusty wind.
“That was fun,” he said. "I think I got a cold from last night.”
The Tigers host a two-game midweek set with Arkansas State (9-5) beginning at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Taylor Stadium. Once that wraps up, Southeastern Conference play starts at 6:30 p.m. Friday against the Arkansas Razorbacks (12-2) in Fayetteville, Arkansas.