Missouri baseball showcases small ball and home runs against Northwestern

The Tigers won on Saturday with strength and on Sunday with finesse. Coach Steve Bieser wants to see both in SEC play.

Early in the season, Mizzou baseball coach Steve Bieser stressed the importance of small ball. Advancing runners, stealing bases and not waiting around for homers were going to define the Tigers’ style of play, especially once the SEC season began.

“When we get to league play, we know small ball’s going to be very important,” he said after his team’s win over Alabama A&M. “We’re going to have to move runners. We can’t leave a guy at third base with less than two outs in league play. There [are] a lot of strikeout pitchers in our league, so we’ve got to be really good at being able to pick up runs whenever you get easy runs. You just got to put a ball in play sometimes.”

On Saturday against Northwestern (4-8), less than a week before the start of the conference season, Missouri (9-5) played a variety of baseball that was decidedly not small. The Tigers mashed seven extra-base hits, including four home runs in their 16-11 drubbing of Northwestern.

For a team that’s forged its identity on doing the opposite, the recent power surge is a reminder to Mizzou that its lineup doesn’t have to be based on one style of play.

“It shows that we can do that too,” senior shortstop Chris Cornelius said. “Obviously, the wind helped, but we were hammering the ball, so I think that shows that as a team we can play the small-ball game but also have teams worry about us doing damage.”

The wind Cornelius referred to was whipping out for the entire game, a stark contrast from the conditions of Friday when the wind was coming in, favoring pitchers.

Bieser acknowledged that factor, maintaining that the team’s approach is a much more patient one.

“It was a great day for power because of the wind,” he said. “We know what our team identity has to be, but the other thing is we have to play to the conditions. Dropping a bunt down today would not be very smart.”

Senior center fielder Kameron Misner got it started in the first inning on Saturday with a possibly wind-guided shot to right-center field.

The next inning, senior first baseman Tony Ortiz chipped in a homer of his own to right-center. With two strikes, Ortiz wasn’t trying to do too much.

“With two strikes, I was just trying to find a barrel, so I tried to drive something,” he said. “It’s really just try[ing] to get a barrel on it, hit it hard somewhere.”

Missouri hit two more homers that game, coming from Cornelius — and for the second time that evening — Ortiz.

Sunday afternoon’s game saw more of Mizzou’s power, with Ortiz and junior third baseman Austin James both hitting homers, but also showed off another facet of the Tigers’ game that Bieser had lauded: small ball.

Ortiz and sophomore Chad McDaniel stole bases; sophomore Mark Vierling brought home a run on a sacrifice bunt. Bieser even went as far as to have Cornelius, the team’s cleanup hitter coming off of a three-hit game the night before, attempt to lay one down in the sixth inning because that’s what the situation called for.

“For me, it’s all about scoring runs,” Bieser said. “And whether it’s Kameron Misner or my cleanup hitter, if the defense gives us something for us to attack, then we’re going to attack it with everything we’ve got.”

Edited by Emily Leiker | eleiker@themaneater.com

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