In 2017, Missouri baseball rode a 16-game winning streak into its first SEC series with Alabama and swept the Crimson Tide, improving the Tigers’ record to 19-1.
That Alabama team, though, ended the season dead-last in the SEC with a 5-24-1 conference record.
Mizzou — ranked No. 24 in the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper on Monday — has had a similar start to 2018, finishing its first non-conference stretch of the season with a 14-3 record and a nine-game winning streak. However, as Missouri gets set to begin conference play this weekend, it will be up against a much bigger challenge in LSU.
LSU is currently 11-6, but don’t let the record fool you. The Tigers sit at No. 16 on the same CBN rankings, eight spots ahead of Missouri. Six everyday players from last year’s College World Series runner-up returned to bolster LSU’s lineup, including junior Antoine Duplantis, who is batting .296 on the year and recorded his 200th career hit against South Alabama on Wednesday.
Antoine Duplantis is a hit machine!— LSU Baseball (@LSUbaseball) March 15, 2018
His 7th inning RBI-single marked his 200th hit since coming to Baton Rouge! Congratulations @antoine_dupl!
We can't wait to see you get many more hits in your LSU career
: https://t.co/Jm62o9ObTm pic.twitter.com/cTip6r4xUX
But it’s the new guys that have led LSU’s lineup into conference play.
Juniors Brandt Broussard and Hunter Feduccia — transfers from Delgado Community College and LSU-Eunice, respectively — top all LSU hitters in batting average with .386 and .354 lines. Broussard is first in hits with 22 and Feduccia leads the team in RBI (17) and slugging percentage (.625).
Missouri, though, trots out a lineup that stacks up nicely with LSU’s.
The patience Mizzou has shown at the plate this season has been monumental during its hot start. The team is fourth nationally with 133 walks, led by sophomore Kameron Misner’s 23 — tied for best in the country.
The X-factor of Missouri’s offense, though, comes when its hitters are putting the ball in play. The lineup features five batters that are hitting above .290, paced by third baseman Brian Sharp. The junior is in the midst of a breakout year, batting .426 (second in the SEC) with 23 RBI (fourth) and three home runs, and his success has mitigated the struggles of senior Brett Bond.
Bond, named the preseason No. 4 senior by PerfectGame.org, labored to start the year. Through Missouri’s first six games, his BA sat at a paltry .167. Bond has seen his BA rise to .293 in the last 11 games, however, highlighted by a 7-for-12 performance in the last four.
Mizzou is a clear favorite in the pitching department, besting LSU in ERA, opposing BA, strikeouts, and hits, runs and walks allowed. LSU’s team ERA sits at 4.23, coinciding with a rise in ERA for the team’s No. 1 Zach Heiss (3.12 in 2017, 5.64 in 2018) and No. 2 Caleb Gilbert (2.16 in 2017, 4.29 in 2018). This is of particular concern for LSU, as it’s facing a Missouri team that ranks 13th in the nation with 144 runs scored.
Mizzou’s top two pitchers, redshirt junior Bryce Montes de Oca and junior Michael Plassmeyer, boast 1.57 and 2.88 ERA, and Mizzou has a 2.54 team ERA. LSU will have to work to keep a high-powered Missouri offense, which averaged a torrid 7.78 runs per game during its home stand, off the board.
Mizzou knows it needs to maintain focus as it heads south. “We just need to take one game at a time and keep moving forward,” Sharp said after Tuesday’s victory over the Shockers. “We’re gonna get a quality opponent down there (at LSU). We just have to continue to get better everyday.”
Missouri is 0-12 all-time against LSU and 0-10 since joining the SEC. But the Tigers will look to turn their current momentum into a strong performance in Baton Rouge. First pitch will be Friday at 6:30 p.m CT.