Missouri hit the road for a trip to Fayetteville, Ark., this weekend riding a five-game winning streak and owning a 9-1 record in its previous 10 games.
Arkansas was not going to be the easiest opponent for the Tigers (11-8, 0-3 SEC) to open up conference play against, as the Razorbacks sit in the top-20 of every major college baseball poll and as high as No. 10 in the USA Today Coaches Poll. But with the team’s top three lefties on the bump and junior Kameron Misner anchoring the lineup, Missouri had high hopes of knocking off Arkansas.
Dreams wouldn’t become reality, though, as the Tigers were swept by the Razorbacks and head back to Columbia winless in the Southeastern Conference.
Here are some notes from Missouri’s weekend set in Arkansas.
Quality starts on the mound not enough
These are the combined stats of Missouri’s starting pitchers from the three games: 20 innings pitched, 14 hits, six earned runs, four walks and 19 strikeouts.
Those numbers came from three quality starts by juniors Jacob Cantleberry and T.J. Sikkema and senior Tyler LaPlante. None of those performances, though, amounted to wins. The Tigers dropped all three games by a total of four runs, and none of the starters pitched with a lead in those 20 innings.
This has become a common occurrence as Missouri transitions to conference play; the bats go cold, and the pitching staff pitches from behind more often than not. Playing in the brutal SEC doesn’t make anything easier, but the Tigers can’t make any excuses for a constant lack of run support.
The starters pitched their arms off — Sikkema even threw 122 pitches through eight innings — but it may take even better starts for Missouri to knock off conference opponents.
Bullpen sees improvement
Remember the bullpen’s struggles in that Florida trip to start the season, when six different pitchers held ERA’s over 4.90?
Lately, some relievers have started figuring things out.
Head coach Steve Bieser put his confidence in seniors Jordan Gubelman and Cameron Dulle on Friday and Sunday, and they delivered. The duo both had outings with at least two innings pitched, combining to allow just two hits, two walks and no earned runs while striking out four. Even though Dulle eventually gave up the walk-off single Sunday, without the catcher’s interference putting runners on first and second with one out, it’s very probable that Dulle sends the game into extra-innings.
None of the outings ultimately ended up in wins, but knowing he has quality relievers to give the ball to has to be a nice feeling for Bieser.
Late-inning rallies come up just short
Missouri couldn’t muster up a run Friday, but Saturday and Sunday was a different story.
On Saturday, facing a 4-1 deficit in the top of the eighth, the lineup finally made some noise.
Sophomore Clayton Peterson started things off with a single, then a double down the right field line two batters later by freshman Luke Mann cut the lead to two. Junior Chris Cornelius hit one through the left side to knock in Mann, bringing his team within one for the first time since the second inning. Sophomore Chad McDaniel flew out to end the inning, though, and a 1-2-3 top of the ninth led to a Tigers’ loss.
Missouri’s bats were ice cold for the majority of the game Sunday, and they entered the top of the ninth in danger of getting shutout for the second time in the series. Down 2-0 with one out in the ninth and a runner on first, junior Peter Zimmermann smacked one over the center field fence, tying the game up and eliciting some of the first cheers of the day for the Tigers.
Missouri got nothing else out of its lineup, though, and a single, a catcher’s interference and another single sent the Tigers packing.
Misner hits a dry spell
Junior Kameron Misner is one of the best players in the SEC. That much is certain.
At the plate against Arkansas, though, he didn’t look like it.
The highly touted prospect couldn’t buy a hit against the Razorbacks, going 0-for-12, striking out six times and dropping his batting average to .306. These numbers are a far cry from the numbers Misner put up against non-conference opponents, as he came into the weekend hitting .393 with 22 hits, 14 RBI and 5 home runs.
With the amount of talent Missouri lost at the plate after the 2018 season, the Tigers were always going to lean on Misner to help carry the load. For the team to reach any of their goals in 2019, though, Misner will have to perform much better at the plate