They were so close.
In all three games versus the top-ranked Gators over the weekend, Steve Bieser’s Missouri Tigers (24-12, 6-9 SEC) were either tied or within a run as late as the seventh inning. However, silent Mizzou bats and clutch play from Florida (32-6, 12-3 SEC) were the key factors in a three-game sweep for the Gators.
T.J. Sikkema took the mound for game one, providing a masterful performance against the country’s No. 1 team. He spread out just five hits through the first seven innings of play, with the only miscue being a solo shot from Nelson Maldonado in the first that tied up the score 1-1.
In the eighth, however, Sikkema gave up a lead-off single to Brady Smith before Deacon Liput moved him to second with a sacrifice bunt. At that point, Sikkema had already thrown 112 pitches, and Missouri coach Steve Bieser brought Andy Toelken out of the bullpen.
Toelken kept Smith at second after a Maldonado grounder to third and intentionally walked Jonathan India to set up a force-out opportunity with two outs. But Florida showed why it’s the top team in college baseball: Wil Dalton hit a crucial two-run double before the Tigers went down in order in the ninth to seal the 3-1 loss.
The Tigers fell behind early to start game two of the series Saturday, as Tyler LaPlante gave up two runs with two outs in the first. India started the run with a triple before LaPlante plunked Dalton to put runners on the corner, and JJ Schwarz doubled to right center to knock in the pair.
LaPlante would allow just four more runners to reach base through the fifth, and Missouri finally made something happen in the sixth with a two-out run of their own.
Brian Sharp started the rally with a single to left. He moved up to second on a walk for Alex Samples and Zach Hanna double all the way down the line in right to knock them in and even up the game.
However, Schwarz came to the plate in the bottom of the inning and immediately gave the Gators back the lead with a deep bomb to left that made it 3-2.
Jordan Gubelman was brought in to relieve LaPlante in the bottom of the seventh. Gubelman owned a 1-0 record and a 0.55 ERA heading into the game, but he could do nothing to slow down Florida. He gave up a lead-off single to Nick Horvath, and Keenan Bell doubled down the right field line to knock him in before scoring on a throwing error to put Florida up 5-2.
A two-run Maldonado homer made it 7-2 and ended Gubelman’s day. Luke Anderson gave up an RBI-double and hit a batter before being replaced himself for Giovanni Lopez, who limited further damage but gave up a sacrifice fly to Blake Reese that made it 9-2. Florida tacked on one more “insurance” run in the eighth to take the 10-2 win and the series.
Missouri had one more chance against the Gators in the second game of Saturday’s double-header and felt confident with Michael Plassmeyer on the mound. The Tigers almost started an early run with two down in the first, as Misner, Bond and Hanna all reached base. However, Florida’s Tyler Dyson wouldn’t let Samples put the ball in play, striking him out in three pitches.
Plassmeyer found himself in some trouble in the second. Schwarz led off with a single to center but was forced out at second on Langworthy’s fielder’s choice. Reese flew out for out No. 2, but a Horvath single and a wild pitch put runners on second and third for Smith. Plassmeyer wouldn’t be fazed, though, getting a swinging strikeout to end the threat.
In the top of the third, Sharp took a lead-off walk, Trey Harris doubled to put runners in scoring position, and Bond was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Hanna then hit a sac-fly to center to knock in Sharp, and Missouri left the inning with a 1-0 lead.
However, as they’d done all series, the Gators immediately answered back.
With runners on the corners and two outs, Plassmeyer found himself matched up with Schwarz. In game two earlier that day, Schwarz had dominated the Tigers’ pitching staff with a home run, a double and three RBI, and he didn’t slow down against the Missouri southpaw. On a 1-1 pitch, Schwarz roped another RBI-double to left that plated Liput.
In the fourth, Florida took the lead after Horvath scored on a Smith fly out, and that would be all the Gators needed. From the fourth through the eighth innings Mizzou mustered up almost no offense, getting just two runners on base while Plassmeyer and Nile Ball held Florida’s offense at bay through seven.
The bottom of the eighth was a different story.
Ball allowed three straight hits and a run to start the inning and was replaced by Ian Bedell with runners on the corners. Bedell wouldn’t fare any better, giving up a two-run double to Horvath before Bell all but put away Missouri with a two-run bomb to center.
Missouri would get one back on a lead-off homer from Hanna in the ninth, but Florida’s Michael Byrne would get Sharp to strikeout with two men on to finish off the sweep.
Next up: Missouri will look to get back on track Tuesday, playing host to Chicago State. First pitch will be at 4:30 p.m.