After stealing the series finale in Lexington a week ago, Mizzou baseball was hoping they could take some of that momentum into this weekend’s series against No. 1 Vanderbilt. Unfortunately for them, things did not go according to plan.
Thursday night actually started off well for the Tigers. Spencer Miles threw two scoreless innings and improbably, the Tigers scored a run off Vanderbilt ace Kumar Rocker. But after taking that 1-0 lead, it was all Vandy. The Commodores responded with 8 unanswered runs including bombs from CJ Rodriguez and Jayson Gonzalez. A Luke Mann base hit in the 6th provided the only other Tiger run in the game, and the final score read 10-2. If there was a silver lining for the Tigers, it was the slight success they had off Rocker. They were able to hit safely 5 times and only struck out 5 times, both were season worsts for Rocker. While Spencer Miles gave up 6 runs in 5.1 his start was a very gutsy performance and he gave the Tigers a chance, albeit a slim one.
Another major story from this game was SS Joshua Day, who came up limping after an incredible play on a slow roller. Day remained in the game momentarily, but in his next plate appearance, he was pinch-hit for and didn’t play again in the series. Day has been the Tigers’ best and most consistent player this year, so if his absence is extended it could spell even more trouble for the Tigers.
Friday brought one of the most anticipated starts of this young college baseball season to Columbia, Missouri. The question at hand was how will Jack Leiter follow up his no-hitter against South Carolina less than a week earlier. To keep it short and sweet, he picked up right where he left off.
Before Leiter even took the mound, Jack Bulger and CJ Rodriguez gave him 4 runs of support, but that was more than Leiter would ever need. Leiter’s final line read 7 innings, 10 K, 2 BB, and 0 hits. If not for his pitch count exceeding 100, Tim Corbin probably would’ve let Leiter finish off back-to-back no-hitters. All night, Leiter pounded the zone with his heavy heater leaving Mizzou hitters baffled, and he even worked in a good breaking ball which is something he hasn’t always had this year.
When Leiter left the game and handed the ball to the Vandy bullpen, the score was already 11-0, and the outcome was a foregone conclusion. The only thing that remained in question was would the no-hitter last, and it looked like it was going to until Tre Morris pinch-hit with two outs in the ninth. Morris barreled up a ball and found some greenery in right field, and the Tigers avoided the no-hitter. They also grabbed 3 consolation runs by the way of a pinch-hit 3-run HR from 1B Torin Montgomery before the final out was recorded.
Saturday was always going to be the Tigers’ best chance to win since they wouldn’t have to face Rocker or Leiter, and it got off to a good start. Once again, the Tigers scored first thanks to a Tre Morris base hit, but once again, it was all Vandy after that. Zach Hise and Ian Lohse did their best to keep the Tigers in it, but it just wasn’t meant to be for Steve Bieser’s crew. Unable to capitalize on any later chances, the Tigers once again fell to Vandy, this time 3-1.
Let’s Not Overreact
Mizzou now sits at 1-5 in SEC play and 8-15 overall, and there’s next to a 0% chance they make the NCAA tournament without a miracle run in the SEC tournament, and the season looks like it went from bad to worse this weekend if Josh Day isn’t healthy. However, I think a little perspective is good for the current situation of this ballclub.
Is it ever good to be swept at home against a conference opponent? No, but was that opponent the No. 1 team in the country, the best program in the country, and has two possible future MLB aces? Yes. I personally do not think that this weekend should be held against the Tigers. Most teams in America would get swept by Vandy and no team is winning a series when you have to face Rocker and Leiter in games 1 and 2.
Don’t get me wrong, winning on Saturday and stealing game 3 would have been huge for this ball club, but they showed some things that bode well for their future. First, they hit Kumar Rocker (as best they could), and that is something most teams in America could not do. Rocker usually has double-digit Ks, and the Tigers hit safely 5 times when all other teams combined had 6 hits in 4 games off Rocker. Second, the Tigers are realizing just how big of a weapon Ian Lohse can be out of the bullpen. The freshman has been sensational all year, but to go 3.0 with 1 ER, 0 BB, and 4 K against the best team in the country is something special. The kid is going to be the real deal for the Tigers, and I think Steve Bieser has realized if the Tigers are trying to go win a game, that Lohse is their guy to finish the job.
Once again, I will say this weekend wasn’t perfect, but let’s be real, a sweep was expected this weekend, so the fact that the Tigers showed flashes of potential is a huge win in my eyes. They could’ve rolled over knowing they were facing No. 1, but they never quit, played till the last out in each game, and provided some positives that can be built upon in upcoming weeks.
Standout Performer of the Weekend
Tre Morris - Morris was the only man to hit safely in all three games this weekend, and he also threw a runner out with his arm. In a weekend of rough performances, Morris’ success stood out the most.
Check Rock M on later this week for more baseball content and a breakdown of the upcoming midweek game against Kansas and the weekend series against Texas A&M.