Mizzou Wins Braggin Rights Over Illinois
ST. LOUIS -- Brett Graves overcame a slow start by throwing a career-high six innings and fanning a career high seven batters as part of Missouri's (18-14) 5-4 victory over the Illinois Fighting Illini in Busch Stadium. Eric Garcia added two more RBI in the contest to bring his midweek total to five. Two other Tigers kept streaks alive at the plate, with Blake Brown's 19-game hitting streak and Brannon Champagne's 24-game on-base streak remaining intact.
A team streak also kept going after the win, as the Tigers have won three straight games within Busch Stadium, undefeated in three contests with two wins over Illinois. Mizzou scored 31 runs through the three games in the home of the St. Louis Cardinals.
The Tigers led off in the neutral site game, and Conner Mach's walk with two outs turned into a run after an errant throw on a pickoff at first allowed Mach to advance, then Dane Opel singled to center to take a 1-0 lead. Illinois put a runner aboard with an out, and he scored on a double to tie the score at one. A single by the following batter scored the runner from second, and the Illini took a 2-1 advantage. After a fielder's choice left a runner on first, a stolen base followed by a double allowed another Illinois runner to cross the plate for a 3-1 lead. Scott Sommerfeld rifled a grounder past the third baseman for a double to lead off the second, then Michael McGraw singled to center to put runners on the corners with an out. Brown shot a single to left to cut into the Illinois lead and make the score 3-2.
Brett Graves started off the second inning by forcing a flyout to right, but then put two runners on base with a walk and a single. Graves then forced two straight outs to get out of the jam. Mizzou got two aboard with two outs in the third by virtue of a walk and a hit by pitch, and McGraw singled home a run for the 3-3 tie. Graves then threw a perfect 1-2-3 inning in the bottom of the frame.
Brown led off the fourth with a walk, then advanced to second on a groundout by Champagne. Mach's second walk of the game put two on with one out. Ben Turner walked with two outs to load the bases, and Garcia singled home two runs to give the Tigers a 5-3 lead. The Illini got their leadoff batter on base in the bottom of the inning, but responded by retiring the next three hitters. Mach closed off the inning with a diving grab on a grounder and a bullet across the diamond to nail the runner at first. McGraw started the fifth with a single to left, then advanced on Dillon Everett's groundout. Brown's walk with an out was the final time a Tiger reached base in the inning.
The Illini notched a single in the bottom of the frame, but the inning was highlighted by Everett's sensational defensive play with a dive behind second base before throwing the runner out at first. Dane Opel singled in the sixth, and advanced on a fielder's choice. He then advanced to third on a groundout, but was left stranded. Graves breezed through the sixth by striking out the side.
Brown reached base on a wild pitch on a strikeout with two outs in the seventh, and Champagne reached on a walk, and both stole a base in Mach's at bat, but they were left stranded. Illinois got a leadoff double in the seventh, bringing Jeff Emens in to pitch for Mizzou. Emens held the Illini off the board until a wild pitch with two outs and runners on second and third made the score 5-4. Opel got a double to start the eighth, but was left stranded on third. Emens then sat down Illinois in order in the bottom of the inning.
After the Tigers went down 1-2-3 in the ninth, Illinois put a runner on first before McGraw turned a great double play on a hard grounder up the first base line. Emens struck the final batter out looking, and the Tigers hung on to win 5-4.
Mizzou heads to Oklahoma this weekend, and returns home on Friday, April 20 against Kansas State.