The Maneater

Florida uses timely hitting, strong pitching to outlast Missouri in weekend series

The Tigers were swept in a weekend series for the first time this year.

Michael Plassmeyer pitches during his freshman year.

Sophomore lefty TJ Sikkema was thrown into the fire on Friday night, squaring up against the top-ranked Florida Gators in just his fourth start of the season. The young hurler didn’t disappoint. His offense did, as the bats fell flat and Missouri dropped the series opener at Florida, 3-1.

The opener was the closest the Tigers came to knocking off No. 1 Florida in the weekend series in Gainesville, Florida, as Missouri fell 10-2 and 7-2 in a Saturday double-header. The losses moved Missouri’s record to 24-12 and 6-9 in Southeastern Conference play.

In Missouri’s previous weekend series against the Alabama Crimson Tide, the Tigers’ offense scored a total of just three runs, one in each contest. They were fortunate enough to win one of those games. Against Florida, however, the Tigers had no such luck, scoring just five runs in a series in which they were sorely outmatched.

In an effort to generate offense, head coach Steve Bieser shook up his usual lineup Friday night. He gave first baseman Kameron Misner a night off and moved right fielder Trey Harris down into the two hole, while slotting freshman designated hitter Cade Bormet in the leadoff spot.

Initially, the experiment seemed to be working. To start the game, Bormet and Harris drew back-to-back walks. Later in the inning, catcher Brett Bond brought Bormet home with a run-scoring groundout.

The Gators quickly evened the score with a solo shot in the bottom of the first. Then, both pitchers started to settle in.

Sikkema took command, turning in 7 1/3 innings of work while allowing just two runs, one walk and eight strikeouts.

But the Tiger bats were lifeless after the first inning. They totaled just two hits on the evening, with one coming from Bond and the other off the bat of pinch hitter Matt Berler.

With the contest tied going into the bottom of the eighth, things started to unravel for the Tigers. After allowing a leadoff single, Sikkema retired the next batter on a sacrifice bunt. But the go-ahead run was now in scoring position.

Bieser then went to starter turned high-leverage reliever Andy Toelken. He recorded the second out of the inning before issuing an intentional walk. The move didn’t pay off, as the next hitter roped a two-run double to put the Gators ahead 3-1. The Tigers then went down in order in the ninth.

After the game, Bieser applauded his team’s effort but lamented the outcome.

“It was quite a pitcher's duel,” he said in a press release. “We expected that going out. Their guy has done that to many teams this year. We competed hard and we just didn't get the clutch hit.”

Saturday was a much uglier day for the Tigers.

In game one of the doubleheader, the Tigers got an excellent spot start from junior lefthander Tyler LaPlante after Bryce Montes de Oca woke up with a stiff neck. Making his second start of the week and first in SEC play, LaPlante surrendered a two-run double in the first inning but settled down afterward, firing six innings of three-run ball. He surrendered five hits and two walks while striking out three, keeping Missouri in the game.

While LaPlante was strong, he failed to get the shutdown inning the Tigers needed out of him in the sixth. Missouri left fielder Zach Hanna hit a two-run double in the top of the sixth to tie the game at 2, but LaPlante surrendered a solo home run in the bottom half of the frame, and Florida retook the lead for good.

Though LaPlante took the loss, it was the bullpen that fell apart at the end of the game. Jordan Gubelman had a particularly tough outing. He opened the seventh inning but failed to get an out, surrendering four earned runs on four hits on just 10 pitches thrown. Luke Anderson replaced Gubelman and had similar struggles, giving up a hit, walking one and hitting another batter. He, too, failed to get an out and gave up two runs. Giovanni Lopez was more successful in relief, but the damage had been done, and Missouri fell 10-2.

In the second game of the double-header, Missouri enjoyed another solid start, this time from junior lefthander Michael Plassmeyer. Plassmeyer, who’s been the Tigers’ best starter this season, turned in 5 1/3 innings of two-run ball (one earned), surrendering six hits, walking two, striking out six and hitting a batter. While he was relatively effective, his high pitch count forced him out of the game earlier than Missouri would have liked. He threw 120 pitches and picked up his first loss of the year. Once again, Missouri’s only offense came from Hanna, who hit a sacrifice fly in the third to give Missouri a temporary lead and hit a solo home run in the ninth while reaching base three times on the day. The rest of the team was ineffective offensively, as Missouri recorded just six hits.

Similar to the first game of the day, Missouri’s bullpen sunk the team’s chances at pulling off an upset. Normally reliable junior Nile Ball had one of his worst outings of the year, surrendering three earned runs in 1 2/3 innings. His replacement, freshman Ian Bedell, wasn’t any better, as he gave up three hits and two earned runs in two-thirds of an inning. Andy Toelken got out of Bedell’s trouble in the eighth, but it wasn’t enough to keep Missouri from losing, 7-2.

Edited by Bennett Durando | bdurando@themaneater.com

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