The Maneater

Bats come alive but Missouri drops two of three at Kentucky

Offense can’t overcome sloppy pitching in weekend series against Kentucky

Last weekend, Missouri took two of three at home from a highly touted Vanderbilt squad. Then, the team turned in a dominant effort in a decisive 8-2 victory over Missouri State on Tuesday. The last week has seen the team boost its chances of making the NCAA tournament, but a tough road series at the No. 14 University of Kentucky Wildcats loomed this weekend.

The Tigers’ road test was met with mixed results and inconsistent play, as Missouri dropped two of three, losing Friday 2-1 before winning a Saturday slugfest 14-11 and dropping the finale, 11-10.

Friday’s contest, in many ways, was emblematic of the Tigers’ season thus far: it featured quality starting pitching that wasn’t backed up by consistent offense. TJ Sikkema, despite turning in another quality performance (allowing only two earned runs in six innings), was a tough luck loser. Sikkema has now lost three of his last four starts despite allowing two earned runs or less in each.

The run support hasn’t been there all season long, and was absent again on Friday.

The Tigers were able to manufacture a run in the first inning on a squeeze bunt by catcher Brett Bond, but that would prove to be the only time the Tigers got on the scoreboard against reigning SEC pitcher of the year Sean Hjelle.

The Tigers had several chances to retake the lead in the late innings, but couldn’t capitalize. Alex Samples was stranded on second base after doubling to lead off the seventh inning, and Cade Bormet narrowly missed what would have been a game-tying home run in the ninth. He had to settle for a double off the wall and then was stranded at second to end the game.

Saturday figured to be another low-scoring game as the Tigers sent ace Michael Plassmeyer to the mound. But the contest turned out to be an explosive offensive affair, as the teams combined for 25 runs, aided by 27 hits and four combined errors.

The Tigers never trailed in the game, and got out to a 9-2 lead. Brian Sharp, Matt Berler and Zach Hanna all homered in the first five innings to lead the way for the Missouri offense.

However, in the bottom of the sixth, an error opened the floodgates and chased Plassmeyer from the game without recording an out in the inning. Two of the runs he allowed were unearned, but he still allowed four earned runs on nine hits and a walk over just five plus innings of work.

The Wildcats cut the deficit to 1, but Andy Toelken came in and stopped the bleeding.

A two-run single by Paul Gomez and a dagger three-run homer by Trey Harris stretched the Tiger lead to 14-8.

The Wildcats would tag Toelken for three runs in the bottom of the eighth, but it didn’t matter, as Bryce Montes de Oca came in and got a four-out save. With that, the Tigers had claimed the middle game of the series by the score of 14-11.

Sunday’s contest could not have started much worse for the Tigers. After plating one run in the top half of the first, Missouri starter Tyler LaPlante gave up four runs in the bottom half of the frame. He came back out for the second, but allowed another run and exited without recording an out in the inning.

Giovanni Lopez turned in a steady relief effort, but after four innings, the Tigers were down by the score of 6-1. However the Tigers would prove the game was far from over.

Harris stayed hot with a two-run homer in the fifth and connected for an RBI single in the sixth to cut into the deficit. Connor Brumfield homered in the sixth as well. After six innings, Missouri had closed the gap and now trailed just 6-5.

By this point, Nile Ball had quieted the Wildcat bats with three shutout innings out of the bullpen. However the Missouri bats were just getting started.

In the top of the seventh, Chris Cornelius singled home a run to tie the game at 6. Later in the inning, Sharp connected for a grand slam, and the Tigers were suddenly ahead 10-6.

After putting up another zero in the seventh, Ball ran into some trouble in the eighth. He allowed a homer before hitting two batters and loading the bases.

At that point, Montes de Oca was called on to put out the fire with the score 10-7 and the go-ahead run at the plate with only one out. He was unable to do so, and gave up a grand slam of his own to the first batter he faced. Just like that, Kentucky had reclaimed the lead, 11-10.

In the top of the ninth, Sharp was able to reach base on a single and Harris was hit by a pitch, but Hanna was unable to drive them in, and the Tigers dropped the series finale.

The team will look to reclaim its momentum with a midweek nonconference tilt at the Iowa Hawkeyes. First pitch is scheduled for 3 pm Tuesday.

Edited by Bennett Durando | bdurando@themaneater.com

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