Houck struck out 10 batters and allowed just four hits in a complete-game shutout as the Tigers defeated visiting Auburn 2-0 in a Southeastern Conference contest at Taylor Stadium.
“Pitching with the lead is huge,” Houck said. “But, you know, you still have to go on the attack. You have to act like it’s a 0-0 ballgame.”
Houck (4-2) relied heavily on his fastball, but threw a nasty slider to keep his opponents chasing balls outside of the strike zone. That tactic worked masterfully as he racked up 10 strikeouts, the second most in his career.
“Fastball was huge,” he said. “Showed really early that I could command it for strikes with a lot of movement. That was my go-to tonight. Then backing that up with the slider whenever I needed it. Then I could get them to chase out of the zone occasionally and then coming back in with the fastball.”
Missouri improved to 19-14 overall and 3-8 in SEC play, while Auburn fell to 15-16 overall and 3-8 in league action.
Friday’s performance was Houck’s second shutout of the season — and the second time in three starts he didn’t allow a run in nine innings. In his previous home start, March 26 against Vanderbilt, Houck struck out 14 batters and allowed just two hits in nine scoreless innings but the Tigers couldn’t get him a run and lost 2-0 in 11 innings.
“This is very similar to the Vanderbilt start except he was probably better today than he was against Vanderbilt,” Missouri coach Tim Jamieson said. “This was the kind of performance that you think you would get from a guy like that on a regular basis. … We played pretty good defense behind him too so there’s a lot of factors with that. But to go into the eighth inning or ninth inning and still be right around 100 pitches, that’s a pretty good performance.”
Unlike the Vanderbilt start, the Tigers got Houck a run early.
Right fielder Kirby McGuire led off the bottom of the first with a single — extending his hitting streak to a career-high eight games — went to second on a sacrifice bunt and then scored on a throwing error.
The Tigers added an insurance run in the eighth when center fielder Jake Ring scored on a passed ball.
Houck’s shutout was made possible by some astounding defensive plays, including a heads-up line drive catch from first baseman Zach Lavy in the first, a diving grab by third baseman Shane Benes to throw out the lead runner at second, and a handful of strong throws from both Benes and shortstop Ryan Howard.
One of the keys on Friday was Houck and the Tigers slowing down Auburn leadoff hitter Anfernee Grier, who entered the game hitting .410.
Houck struck out Grier three times as the Auburn center fielder went hitless in four at-bats, the first time this season he’s failed to reach base.
When asked about snapping Grier’s streak, Jamieson laughed.
“Well, good for us,” the Missouri coach said.
Despite the fantastic pitching and defensive performances, the host Tigers struggled offensively. Missouri recorded just five hits on the night against Auburn starter Justin Camp (2-2), who struck out three and walked three in his seven innings of work.
Camp proved to be a tough opponent for the Tigers’ offense, but they got another strong start from Houck and scratched out just enough offense to get him a win and even the three-game series.
The teams will meet again in the series finale on Saturday at 1 p.m. (CT).