It was only a season ago that Missouri finally pulled off something it felt destined to do since moving to the Southeastern Conference.
Prior to 2013 — Missouri’s first season in the SEC — Louisiana State owned a 2-0 record over Columbia’s Tigers. LSU extended that record to a perfect 13-0 over the next five years, but in Game 2 of its trip to Baton Rouge last March, Missouri finally broke through with a 12-6 victory.
With Missouri’s ever-improving performances in SEC play this season, head coach Steve Bieser and his players believed they had every chance to take another game from the nation’s No. 8 team Friday, and some nutty occurrences would have been more than helpful.
Here’s what they got in Game 1: a 49 minute first inning in which nine runs were scored on just six hits and four walks. Add in an error and three wild pitches, and by the time Missouri starter Jacob Cantleberry went out to pitch the top of the second, Missouri found itself ahead 6-3.
The next eight innings were a lot more of the same, with wild pitches, errors and long balls playing a huge part in an 11-11 tie heading into the 10th.
Jordan Gubelman, who had already pitched a 1-2-3 ninth, struck out the first batter in the top of the frame before giving up back-to-back singles to put runners on first and third. Antoine Duplantis then hit a slow roller that pulled Austin James off the line at third. James decided to throw home over trying to turn two, but he didn’t beat the runner and LSU took a 12-11 lead.
Missouri couldn’t channel any of its hitting prowess in bottom of the frame, going down in order as it fell to 23-12-1 (5-7-1 SEC).
“I’m proud of them to be able to battle back and get back in this game, but eventually we’ve got to move past the moral victories and saying, ‘hey, we played close,’” Bieser said. “That’s not good enough.”
Cantleberry had been Missouri’s biggest surprise midway through the season.
Heading into Friday, the junior southpaw pitched to a 2.62 ERA and a 3-2 record with 61 strikeouts and just 17 walks. That, though, is why it was such a surprise to see him struggle against LSU. In just three innings, his stat line read like this: eight hits, 11 runs (eight earned), two BBs and just 3 Ks.
His night came to a premature end with no outs in the fourth. After plunking the leadoff man and giving up a two-run homer to LSU’s Zach Watson, a frustrated Cantleberry beaned Duplantis with a hard fastball, causing Bieser to pull him from the game.
“He wasn’t throwing the ball well,” Bieser said. “He just didn’t have it for whatever reason tonight.”
Luckily, Konnor Ash was more than up to the task. The sophomore righty pitched five scoreless innings, striking out five and allowing just two hits while keeping Missouri in a game that looked to be getting away.
Meanwhile, Chad McDaniel almost became the MVP of a come-from-behind Missouri win.
Leading off the top of the fifth with his team fresh off three-straight scoreless innings, McDaniel kicked off a two-inning Missouri rally. The sophomore singled to right and stole second, then scored two batters later on a wild pitch.
In the sixth, McDaniel came to the plate once again, this time with two on and two out.
On an 0-1 count, McDaniel skied a three-run bomb over the wall in right, tying up the game and sending the Taylor Stadium crowd into a frenzy.
“(The home run) was definitely a game changer. It felt really good to get one out of the yard for once,” McDaniel said. “Having that momentum, I thought it was really going to be the difference between a win and a loss.”
But McDaniel and Ash’s heroics would come up a little too short.
Gubelman’s 1-2-3 inning in the ninth gave Missouri a chance for a walk off but the lineup couldn’t take advantage, and the fielder’s choice RBI by Duplantis in the 10th proved to be the difference.
With the performance it put on against one of the top teams in the SEC, though, Missouri is more than confident it can right the ship the rest of the weekend.
“We know we can hang with (LSU), we know we can beat them,” Ash said “It’s just our mindset, being ready to go.”