The Maneater

Missouri records two resounding wins over Florida International to start season

The Tigers picked up a 3-1 win on Friday and a 22-1 win on Saturday.

Maneater File Photo

At Tuesday’s media day before this weekend’s season-opening series against the Florida International University Panthers in Miami, Missouri second-year head coach Steve Bieser said his team was entering this season with high expectations.

If its first two games are any indication, Missouri may just meet those expectations.

The Tigers squeaked out a 3-1 victory on Friday before unleashing an offensive barrage on Saturday, totaling 21 hits en route to a 22-1 dismantling of the Panthers. With the wins, Missouri locked up its third 2-0 start since joining the Southeastern Conference in 2012.

Missouri was led Friday by strong pitching. Redshirt junior Bryce Montes de Oca did not have his best stuff, walking seven over 3.2 innings. But the veteran hard-throwing righty was able to limit the damage and hold the Panthers to zero runs, setting the stage for a strong performance out of the bullpen from sophomore T.J. Sikkema.

Sikkema, a preseason Second Team All-American from PerfectGame, continued right where he left off a season ago. He tossed 5.0 innings of one run ball and struck out seven, picking up his first win of the season. After allowing the first two runners to reach base in the ninth inning, Sikkema induced a ground ball that resulted in a 4-6-3 double play to get himself out of a jam. Sikkema was then relieved by junior Nile Ball, who induced a groundout against the only batter he faced to pick up his first-ever Division I save.

Without registering a hit, Missouri was able to score two runs in the ninth inning Friday to come out with the victory. With the game tied at 1, Missouri junior third baseman Brian Sharp got his team going by running out a ground ball to the shortstop that resulted in an error. Sharp then stole second, and Missouri shortstop Chris Cornelius followed him with a walk. Junior pinch hitter Paul Gomez then did his job, laying down a perfect sacrifice bunt down the third base line to allow both Sharp and Cornelius to advance. The pressure of the situation got to the Panthers, as freshman right-hander Christian Santana threw wild pitches in back-to-back at-bats, and both Sharp and Cornelius scored.

Bieser said after the game that he was especially pleased with his team’s ability to grind out quality at-bats at key points.

“We really got some clutch performances, great execution, great at-bats when it really counted,” Bieser said in a press release. “We didn't come away with a lot of hits, but at the end of the day our pitching staff did an outstanding job."

Saturday was much less of a nailbiter. Every Tiger in the lineup registered a hit, as the team jumped out to a 10-0 lead just three innings into the game. Missouri never took its foot off the gas, putting up an eight-run fifth inning to seal the blowout victory.

While the Tigers saw a slew of strong offensive performances on Saturday, two Tigers hitters in particular stood out: senior outfielder Trey Harris and sophomore center fielder Kameron Misner. Harris, who led the team in both runs batted in and home runs last year, recorded a career high four hits on Saturday while also scoring four runs. He was outshined by only Misner.

Misner was named preseason second team All-SEC, and he’s played like he’s deserving of first team honors through his team’s first two contests. He went 3-for-5 Saturday, recording two home runs and a double. He also walked twice, scored four runs and drove in five. He has reached base in nine of 12 plate appearances thus far in the 2018 campaign.

The Tigers also got a strong start out of left-hander Michael Plassmeyer. He went 5.0 innings, allowing three hits and one earned run while striking out eight to record his first victory of the season.

After the game, Bieser praised Plassmeyer’s focus.

“He had to sit down for 20 minutes at a time,” Bieser said in a press release. “It's hard to stay locked in and pound the strike zone like he did.”

Missouri will look to finish out the sweep on Sunday when it faces the Panthers in an 11 a.m. contest.

Edited by Bennett Durando | bdurando@themaneater.com

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