Missouri baseball sweeps Tennessee to close out regular season

The Tigers have now won six straight games.

Maneater File Photo

The hot streak continued for Missouri baseball (35-21, 14-16, Southeastern Conference) as it swept the Tennessee Volunteers (27-25, 7-21 SEC) in Knoxville, Tennessee over the weekend. Those three wins in the final series of the regular season made it six straight for a Tigers team that appears to be getting hot at just the right time.

Thursday

Freshman TJ Sikkema made his second start of the season for the Tigers on Thursday. Sikkema’s performance made head coach Steve Bieser’s decision to move the lefty into the rotation seem like a stroke of brilliance.

The southpaw dominated Tennessee hitters for nine frames, leading Missouri to a 5-0 victory, while recording Missouri’s first complete game shutout since Reggie McClain’s shutout of Sam Houston State on Feb. 20, 2015.

Offensively, junior Matt Berler, who has received increased playing time at first base because of Brian Sharp’s recent struggles, hit a grand slam in the fifth inning for his first Division I home run.

“It was great to come through in a big situation like that,” Berler said on his home run. “It was a clutch situation … the ball got in on me and I made a slight adjustment in that same count and it worked out.”

Friday

Opting to skip Tanner Houck’s start, likely to preserve his arm for next week’s SEC Tournament, Missouri started junior Cole Bartlett, who made his fourth start of the season in game two of the series.

Bartlett thoroughly impressed, hurling a complete game one-hitter and striking out a pair of batters as the Tigers again shut out Tennessee 2-0. The two runs of support off the bat of Kirby McGuire in the second inning were enough for Bartlett to push the Tigers to victory.

Bartlett credited the defense, which has been a weak point for Missouri at times this season, for playing a huge part in the victory.

“They were swinging at strikes early in the count, and they were just grounding out. It was definitely a lot easier to pitch when they were swinging away like that and letting the defense work,” Bartlett, a Williamsburg, Indiana native, said after the game. “The defense making 25 of 27 outs is incredible.”

The win secured Missouri’s second straight SEC series victory and marked its fourth of the season.

Saturday

Missouri continued its trend of balanced performances on Saturday, receiving a great outing from starter Bryce Montes De Oca paired with solid defense.

Offensively, junior Brett Bond’s three hits were key in an 8-2 victory. Berler continued his incredible weekend with a pair of RBIs as well.

MVP of the Series — Starting Pitching

As a staff, the Missouri starting pitchers were a force to be reckoned with. Imposing their will on hitters, they kept the Tennessee batters off balance the whole weekend. More importantly, they preserved the staff’s depth for the SEC tournament by pitching deep into games and saving the bullpen.

Moving Forward

The series sweep clinches Missouri’s first 35-win season since 2009. Missouri enters this week’s SEC Tournament as the No. 10 seed and will play No. 7 Texas A&M in the third of four single-elimination games on May 23 (first pitch time TBD) in Hoover, Alabama at Hoover Met Stadium. All games can be seen on the SEC Network.

Edited by Eli Lederman | elederman@themaneater.com

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