Jayhawks take 2 of 3 games from slumping Tigers

The team fell to 2-9 in conference, despite snapping a nine game losing streak Saturday.
Sophomore Blake Brown steals second base for the second time against the Kansas Jayhawks on Sunday at Taylor Stadium. The Tigers lost the game on Sunday by a score of 6-0 and lost the series 2-1.

The Missouri baseball team had lost eight straight games and two consecutive series heading into the three-game Border Showdown this weekend with Kansas, and the Jayhawks did not seem very sympathetic toward their rivals’ struggles.

Kansas left town with a 2-1 record over the weekend, and their first series win in Columbia since 1983. Missouri fell to a conference-worst 2-9 in the Big 12, and have lost 10 of their last 11 games overall.

Kansas set the tone for the weekend in Friday’s series opener, claiming an 8-3 win. The Jayhawks touched up freshman starter Rob Zastryzny for five earned runs in his 5.1 innings of work. Zastryzny, whose 3.60 ERA leads Missouri starters, turned in perhaps his worst start of the season, and coach Tim Jamieson said it was likely because he was just trying to do too much.

“I think Rob overthrew, because he was trying to carry the team, so hopefully we can just relax and try to play more controlled baseball,” Jamieson said.

Despite producing 11 hits in the game, the Tiger offense could only push across three runs. They continued to struggle mightily with runners in scoring position, stranding a total of 11 Tigers on the base paths.

But after a demoralizing nine-game losing streak, Missouri finally broke through with a 3-2 win on Saturday. Junior starter Matt Stites provided much-needed stability for the struggling offense, allowing only one earned run and six hits in 6.1 innings. Stites said his ability to pitch low in the zone and let his teammates get involved was key to the performance.

“Once I started getting the ball down they started to pound the ball into the ground. We’ve got a pretty good infield, so I knew they’d make plays,” Stites said.

On the offensive side of the ball, Missouri finally started to get key hits with runners on base. With the score tied at two and sophomore Brannon Champagne standing at second base in the bottom of the ninth inning, sophomore outfielder Blake Brown delivered a clutch walk-off single to right field, giving the Tigers their first win in almost three weeks. Brown said his focus was just to get the ball in play and let Champagne use his speed to score.

“I didn’t need to hit a ball in the gap," Brown said. "I didn’t need to hit a home run. I just needed to get the ball in play and I knew he’d score."

But Missouri was unable to carry the momentum of its late-inning Saturday win into Sunday’s rubber match, dropping the final game to Kansas 6-0. The story of the game once again was the Tigers’ inability to drive in runs, as the team seemed to threaten every inning but sputter in key moments. 12 Tigers were left on base Sunday, bringing the weekend total to an astronomical 34. Jamieson said that a lot of these struggles are due to his players putting too much pressure on themselves to come through.

“Every time we fail, the next guy up there is carrying that burden, and that’s the wrong mindset,” Jamieson said. “That’s part of the problem we’re having, that they’re walking into the batter’s box with the wrong thoughts.”

Jamieson added all the team can do at this point is pick themselves up and get ready for their upcoming series against Baylor, which starts Thursday in Waco, Texas.

“Until the season’s over and you hit the 27th out, you just need to keep fighting,” Jamieson said. “From a practice standpoint, we’ve done everything there is to do. We just need to come out and make sure we’re ready for Baylor.”

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