Missouri might have been the underdog in this one, but the team made sure to not make it known.
The Tigers (34-22-1, 13-17-1 SEC) finished the regular-season No. 10 in the Southeastern Conference, which matched them up with No. 7 Ole Miss (34-23, 17-14 SEC) on Tuesday. The Rebels visited Columbia earlier in the season, where Missouri took two of three games to kick off a 5-1-1 run in SEC series. The Tigers didn’t finish the regular-season as strong as they wanted to, though, falling two games to three against Vanderbilt in Nashville and getting swept by Florida at home last weekend.
After being named one of the “last five in” by D1 Baseball, Missouri needed a strong showing in the SEC Tournament to lock up a spot in the national bracket, and that showing would need to start with a win over Ole Miss in Hoover, Alabama.
Steve Bieser’s squad relied on its unsung heroes all season long. Outside of TJ Sikkema and Kameron Misner, most of the players were lesser-known commodities throughout the year, but the Tigers built their best résumé since joining the SEC on the backs of these unknowns.
And Tuesday’s game provided some more of the same for Missouri.
Little-used Thomas Broyles and Austin James combined to give the Tigers an early lead, and Konnor Ash pitched four shutout innings in just his second start of the season. A fifth inning meltdown and an inability to string quality at-bats together late cost Missouri, though, as it fell 2-1 to Ole Miss.
With the loss, the Tigers’ SEC Tournament appearance ends on Day 1 for the second consecutive year, and Missouri will now have to wait until Monday’s selection show to find out its NCAA Tournament fate.
Ash took the bump for his second start in five days, and he lived up to the billing of a guy getting his first postseason start.
Ash gave up three hits and three walks through four innings, but three strikeouts and a double play helped him escape any and all jams without allowing a run. He also had the luxury of pitching with an early lead, brought on by the lesser-known Broyles and James.
After a quiet first inning for both teams, the Tigers bats started to come alive in the second. With two outs and the bases empty, Broyles doubled to left-center to give Missouri its second runner in scoring position on the day. James immediately followed up with a double of his own down the line in left, scoring Broyles and giving the Tigers their first lead. Connor Brumfield struck out to end the frame, but Missouri was now in the lead and in position to lean on its nationally-ranked pitching staff.
Jacob Cantleberry, who came on to pitch in the fifth, had been another one of those surprise assets for the Tigers for most of the season, but he has faltered in some of his most recent appearances. That trend continued against the Rebels, as the lefty couldn’t maintain a one-run lead in relief of Ash.
Cantleberry immediately gave up back-to-back doubles to left as Ole Miss tied up the score. He picked up an out on a sacrifice bunt, but he then hit a batter and gave up an RBI single to center to put Missouri behind one.
As huge as James was in picking up the go-ahead RBI earlier in the game, he may have cost the Tigers a chance at escaping the fifth tied.
With the Rebels’ Jacob Adams at second after his leadoff double, Cantleberry threw one in the dirt that Chad McDaniel managed to stop from getting past. Adams took off for third, but McDaniel fired the ball to James waiting at the base and had Adams beat. But James’ swipe at Adams whiffed, and he scored three pitches later on a Thomas Dillard double.
Canteberry pitched a clean sixth, but he couldn’t stay out of trouble much longer. The first two Ole Miss hitters reached base to start the seventh, ending Cantleberry’s day and bringing Ian Bedell out of the pen with two men on and nobody out. Bedell, another Tiger who took a big step forward in this season, escaped without allowing a run, and he got some help from Connor Brumfield who gunned a runner down at home to end the inning.
In the end, though, Missouri couldn’t put together any sort of rally. The Rebels’ Tyler Myers struck out the side in the eighth, and the Tigers stranded another runner at second in the ninth en route to its second-straight first-round SEC Tournament loss.