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So You Wanna... Get Excited About MU in the Big XII Baseball Tournament

"So You Wanna..." is the ongoing educational series of Rock M Nation, whose main goal is to inform readers to make them not only better community members, and not only better Missouri fans, but better humans. Topics will range from Missouri sports history to site management to cooking. OK, at least Missouri sports history and site management.

Photo from The Trib's Parker Eshelman

No, no, no, I get it. You’re only a fan of Mizzou’s moneymaking teams. The football team, and the men’s basketball team. Yeah, that’s right. Live in your little shell of elitism where you only have time for things that come on ESPN on a weekly basis. You sicken me.

Maybe, just maybe, you could take some time out of your oh-so-busy day of doing whippets and watching Maury Povich to learn a little bit about the Mizzou baseball team. After all, you call yourself a fan: prove it, jerkwad.

Getting to know the 2009 Mizzou baseball team basically comes down to five questions, which I will answer……………….now.

1) Why should I care about the MU baseball squad?

Well, because you cheer for everything black and gold, that’s why. But beyond that, this is a team that has shown immense resilience all year long. This is a team that started off 1-7. One and freakin’ seven! That’s bad. That’s Rocky V bad. That’s Bob Stoops’ logic bad. That’s Buzz Williams’ face bad.

Yet now, they find themselves as the No. 3 seed in the Big XII Tournament, which begins Wednesday. They've battled adversity all year, and come out better for it. Give oodles of credit to head coach Tim Jamieson, who has rallied his troops to be a really solid contender after being on the brink of non-factordom.

2) Exactly who are these guys?

Great question. Let’s focus today on what I think are the three most important players on the Mizzou squad: Greg Folgia, Ryan Lollis and Kyle Gibson.

Folgia is, for all intents and purposes, The Man for Mizzou. Imagine if Jesus played baseball. That’s Greg Folgia in 2009.*

(* - Not true. Jesus is a small-ball player, a hustling leadoff man as opposed to a powerful middle-of-the-order hitter. It’s apples to oranges.)
Folgia is hitting .340, which is best on the team. He’s hit 12 homers, which is twice as good as anyone else on the team. He has 64 RBI, which is 16 more than anyone else on the team. He’s slugging .625 this season, which would be good enough for 12th in Major League Baseball. So, yeah, he’s pretty good.

Ryan Lollis is kind of the Laurence Bowers of Mizzou, in that he gets the party started. He usually hits in the second spot for Mizzou, and he’s perfect for that role: a base-stealing threat with good speed and a decent on-base percentage (.388).If he’s got an Achilles’ heel for a second-hitter, it’s that he strikes out a little too much. But overall, he’s a solid offensive threat for Mizzou.

Kyle Gibson’s the ace. That’s all you need to know. The junior went 9-3 with a 3.69 ERA in 13 starts this season. But it’s his peripherals that are so astounding: 116 strikeouts to 15 walks. That’s a 7.7 K/BB ratio, which is, as most people can tell you, pretty darn good. He’s as important to Mizzou’s success in the postseason as anyone.

3) What is Mizzou up against?

The Big XII Tournament starts in Oklahoma City on Wednesday, and the best way to describe the Big XII this season is split. The teams at the top – Texas, Oklahoma, Mizzou, K-State, Kansas to a lesser extent – are pretty darn good. The teams at the bottom – A&M, Tech, Baylor, OK State, Nebraska – not so much.

Mizzou will play in Pool 2 of the Big XII Tourney, meaning that it will play Oklahoma, Texas A&M and Texas Tech. If you ask me, this is much better than the alternative, being matched up with Texas, Kansas and Baylor.

Mizzou first plays A&M at 4 p.m. on Wednesday. Mizzou went 2-1 against the Aggies in a three-game set at Taylor Stadium in March. Mizzou’s playing a lot better than they were in March, so this match-up looks promising.

Next, Mizzou plays Texas Tech on Friday at 3 p.m. Mizzou swept the Red Raiders when they came to Columbia in late April, beating them in three games by a combined score of 42-14. I like Mizzou’s chances.

The big game will likely come on Saturday, when Mizzou plays Oklahoma at 4 p.m. Mizzou dropped two out of three to the Sooners at home in early April. The good news is that all of the games were close (2-1 loss, 7-4 loss, 5-4 win). The bad news is that this tournament is in Oklahoma City, so if you believe in home-field advantage, the Sooners have it.

Should Mizzou emerge victorious from the pool, they’ll take on the winner of Pool 1: either Texas, Kansas, Kansas State or Baylor. Likely Texas. That’s another tough one.

4) What are the keys for Mizzou to win the Big XII Tournament?

I see four very important things that have to happen if Mizzou is going to emerge as the Big XII champions.

-Kyle Gibson’s got to be the ace. He’ll likely pitch twice in the tournament, and he’s got to win. Period. He’s Mizzou’s best pitcher, and he’s got to perform like it.

-Folgia needs some help at the plate. Greg Folgia is going to rake; we know that. But someone else needs to step up and be a solid contributor during the tournament. Prime candidates for that position are Aaron Senne (already pretty good), Kyle Mach (already pretty good), and Steve Gray (underachieved this season).

-The defense has to be solid. This means more than you might think. Yes, it’s always important to play good defense, but it’s especially important in a tournament in which you play up to four games in five days. When you make errors, you make your pitchers get four, five, maybe six outs in an inning. When they have to do that, they throw more pitches. When they throw more pitches, they get more tired. When they get more tired, the bullpen gets depleted. When the bullpen gets depleted, you’re screwed. Catch and throw, boys. Catch and throw.

-The bullpen has to close out wins.  Brad Buehler has been Big XII Pitcher of the Week this season, but has struggled just a hair to close out the season.  We are all well aware of the trials and tribulations of Johnny Wholestaff (and his brother, Mr. Wholecloser).  When Mizzou is staked to a lead (especially if Gibson or other starter Nick Tepesch are starting), they need to be able to close it out.  Whether it is Buehler or perhaps a return of Scooter Hicks to the back of the pen, someone needs to be reliable enough to get the final outs.

5) Is this baseball postseason going to be awesome?

You betcha.