Missouri gets past Tennessee, will face South Carolina in conference tournament

The Tigers were the final of 12 teams to qualify for this week’s SEC Tournament.
Andy Toelken throws a pitch during a game against the University of Maryland, Baltimore County Retrievers on March 4, 2018.

Missouri baseball is a longshot to make the NCAA Tournament, but it still has a chance.

The Tigers took care of business in the final weekend of the regular season against the Tennessee Volunteers. Missouri took two of three matchups, and received the help it needed to make its SEC Tournament dreams a reality, as the Texas A&M Aggies knocked off the South Carolina Gamecocks on Thursday night, avoiding a potential tiebreaker that could have left the Tigers out of their own conference tournament.

After an Alex Samples walkoff single yielded a 3-2 victory in a 12-inning marathon on Thursday night, Michael Plassmeyer’s complete game effort was spoiled as the Tiger bats were nonexistent in a 2-1 loss on Friday.

This set up an elimination game in Saturday’s rubber match and regular season finale. The loser would miss the SEC tournament and in all likelihood have its season end. The winner would claim the 12th and final spot in the conference tournament and keep a glimmer of hope alive for an NCAA appearance.

After giving up a run in the top of the first, Missouri starter Tyler LaPlante settled in nicely, giving up just two runs over five innings of work. With the game tied at 2 runs apiece at the seventh inning stretch, the Tigers showed they were determined to play at least one more game.

Zach Hanna broke the tie with a solo shot, and then Matt Berler connected for a two-run double. Trey Harris capped the outburst with a three run homer to stretch the lead to 8-2. Nile Ball was solid over four innings of work and Missouri won the regular season finale 8-3, earning the right to play in this week’s SEC tournament in Hoover, Alabama.

At this point, Missouri is still firmly out of the NCAA Tournament by all major projections, but qualifying for the league tournament was a near must in order for the team to be seriously considered for the big dance.

If the Tigers wish to make a legitimate case for an NCAA bid, they must first and foremost win their opening round game of the SEC tournament. This round is single-elimination, meaning the winner advances and the loser goes home.

If they are able to defeat South Carolina, this will move them onto the second round, leaving 8 teams to play each other in a double-elimination format. If they make it to this point, the Tigers must lose two contests to be eliminated. If the Tigers are able to win a game in the double elimination round, their chances of playing in an NCAA regional increase. An advance to the semifinals would set the Tigers up nicely for an at-large bid.

However, there is a lot of business to be taken care of before that hypothetical becomes a reality. If first baseman Kameron Misner can return from injury, the Tigers’ chances of making a deep run become more realistic.

Being the final team to qualify for the tournament, the Tigers will have to play against the fifth seeded South Carolina Gamecocks on Tuesday. South Carolina enters the tournament sporting a 31-22 overall record, including a 16-13 mark in SEC play. They feature three position players with batting averages north of .340, but their pitching staff is pedestrian at best. No starting pitcher sports an earned run average under 3.80. By comparison, all three of the Tigers’ starters boast ERAs under that mark.

The Gamecocks took two of three from the Tigers two weekends ago in Columbia, South Carolina. Missouri is 2-2 in neutral site games this season., while the Gamecocks are 0-2 in such contests. Sophomore TJ Sikkema (3-5, 3.41 ERA) will take the hill in an attempt to extend the Tigers’ season, and will match up against Carmen Mlodzinski (2-5, 4.93 ERA).

First pitch is scheduled for approximately 8 p.m. CST Tuesday. If the Tigers advance, they will play the fourth-seeded Arkansas Razorbacks, who finished second in the rugged SEC West and come in with a record of 37-17 — time TBA — on Wednesday in the first round of double-elimination play.

Edited by Adam Cole | acole@themaneater.com

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