Missouri was either tied or ahead going into the seventh inning of three games versus No. 22 Mississippi State over the weekend.
They lost them all.
Although a sweep at home is a discouraging result, the series did feature a few bright spots.
For one, being in a position to win a series against last season’s College World Series runner-up if only a few different bounces went the Tigers’ way. That was the extent of the separation in the extra-inning Friday and Sunday games.
Receiving three strong pitching performances from the weekend starters is also a good sign. The staff combined for 18.1 innings, allowing nine runs and four walks while striking out 13. Perhaps most importantly, all pitchers managed at least six innings and left the game in a tie or lead.
The bullpen’s performance was the biggest lowlight of the series, besides the win-loss record. Tiger relievers not named Keaton Steele gave up 11 hits, seven walks and seven runs in just 7.2 innings.
“Not using Steele for four innings on Friday night will help,” Missouri coach Tim Jamieson said when asked about the struggles of the bullpen. “Having him available for two nights is gonna make a big difference.”
Freshman third baseman Ryan Howard was also a highlight on a mostly tepid Missouri offense.
All year, Jamieson has talked about Howard with an air of eventuality, as if it was only a matter of time until he began producing. In individual games this season, there were flashes of this promise but nothing as impressive as this weekend.
Howard played a stout third base. Not committing a single throwing error is an important step for a player who had struggled to find consistency with his arm. A bad-hop grounder did get him charged with an error on Sunday.
Howard’s coach stood up for him when asked about the play.
“That was a bad hop,” Jamieson said. “I mean, don’t pick on Ryan Howard, that was a tough play. Yeah, we’d like to make it, but that whole ninth inning (on Sunday) was an infield hit and a bad hop.”
For his own part, Howard did not abstain himself of the error.
“It took a bad hop, but the play’s gotta be made,” Howard said. “It may be a tough play, but I had to make it in that spot.”
He also followed the play up with a spectacular diving stop on a one-hopper jolted down the line, getting an out on a ball that was a probable double. Not to mention, the play was in extra innings, with two eager runners on base.
At the plate, Howard was also productive, going 4-for-10 with three walks and a hit-by-pitch, good for an on-base percentage of .571.
“He’s just growing up,” Jamieson said. “He’s a freshman by class, but he’s not a freshman at this point in the season. He has had a lot of big game experience, and that’s starting to help.”