Through the first five innings Saturday night, Missouri pitcher Tanner Houck looked every bit the first-round draft choice in the 2017 Major League Baseball draft that he is projected to be.
Although No. 15 Arkansas did finally get to Houck in the seventh, his start was still good enough to help the Tigers break a seven-game SEC losing skid and a nine-game losing streak in the series with a 8-5 win over the Razorbacks before 7,232 fans at Baum Stadium.
“For the most part we fought back down six-zip against one of the best pitchers in the country,” Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said. “We made them use a little bit of that bullpen and we’ll just have to get ready for tomorrow.”
Arkansas designated hitter Austin Catron went 3-of-3 with three RBIs with a homer, triple and a single and Tucker Pennell had a pair of his team’s eight hits, but the Razorbacks (19-8, 4-4) couldn’t get enough key hits late.
“He (Catron) had a great day,” Van Horn said of the previously lightly-used, switch-hitting player. “He had three hits and I think he walked once. He really got into a fastball and hit it over the (right field) back wall and then hit a curve ball for a triple. Then he hit right handed and hit a hard ground ball the six hole.
“That was really good to see. We need his bat. We need a few more guys in there.”
Houck (3-2) - whose fastball touched 95 on the night - was brilliant early for the Tigers (16-13, 1-7) and didn’t allow a hit until Catron’s homer in the fifth cut Missouri’s lead to 6-1.
He lasted into the seventh when the Razorbacks - having not lost to Missouri since 1991 - cut it to 7-5 and gave up five hits and five runs.
“We ran into a good pitcher and a team that played hard and they got us early and held on,” noted Van Horn, whose team was outhit 10-8.
Arkansas got the go-ahead run to the plate later in the seventh against reliever Liam Carter, but Eric Cole and Carson Shaddy both grounded into fielder’s choices.
The Razorbacks also had the go-ahead run to the plate in eighth, but Tucker Pennell bounced out to the pitcher with the bases loaded.
There was a controversial play before Pennell batted where it was ruled that Michael Bernal was hit by a pitch to load the bases instead of a wild pitch that would have scored a run to make it 8-6.
Television replays show the ball did not hit Bernal.
“Of course it didn’t hit him,” Van Horn said. “We all saw it. I don’t know what the umpire saw. It didn’t look like it was that close to him. Was it close to him?
“I would have rather had the run in and Mike up instead of having the go-ahead run on base. I like Mike with a chance to swing the bat with a runner on second and a chance to tie it up.”
Razorback starting pitcher Keaton McKinney (1-1) struggled while giving up six runs in 3 2/3 innings a night after Friday starter Dominic Taccolini just lasted into the second.
McKinney gave up hits to Kirby McGuire and Jake Ring on two of his first three pitches and Ryan Howard plated both with a double to put Missouri up 2-0 just an out into the opening inning.
Shane Benes - son of former St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Andy Benes - led off the fourth with a homer and the Tigers plated three more before the inning was done to take a 6-0 edge.
"Another bad start by a starting pitcher,” Van Horn said. “He got us off to a rocky start. They punched in two really quick and McKinney was already up to 90 pitchers when I went and got Blaine Knight 3 2/3 (innings) into the game.
“…You see what I see. You see a lot of pitches scattered all over the place - up and out and down and in. There were some pitches close that he didn’t get, but there were also some pitches left up in the zone and not enough pitches around the knees.”
Catron’s second homer of the year got Arkansas on the board, but Zach Lavy’s RBI double put Missouri up 7-1 in the sixth.
Shaddy’s fielder’s choice cut it to 7-2 in the sixth and then the Razorbacks cut it to 7-5 in the seventh.
Catron’s triple drove home a pair of runs and he came across himself on Pennell’s RBI single.
Shortstop Howard made a diving play later in the inning for a force out that was a big play to stymie the rally.
“Ryan Howard made a great play and might have saved the game for them,” Van Horn said. “He made a diving play backhanded in the hole and got to his feet quick and made a nice throw to the second baseman for the force.
“That was just a huge play. We would have only been down one and with runners probably at first and third with one out.”
The visitors took an 8-5 lead in the eighth when right fielder Chad Spanberger unwisely dove and turned what should have been a Brett Bond single into a triple and he later scored on an error.
“He left his feet when he didn’t need to and then we got a double play ball and it went right through Shaddy’s glove,” Van Horn said.
Arkansas used Knight and James Teague in relief as they combined to give up two runs on just four hits after McKinney's exit.
The two teams will meet in the rubber match of the three-game set Sunday at 12:30 p.m.
Freshman Barrett Loeske (1-0) will get the pitching start for Arkansas with Zach Jackson and Doug Willy ready to pitch in relief.
Ryan Howard scores as Tucker Pennell waits for the throw.