Mizzou baseball continues hot start with victories over Illinois-Chicago

A win on Sunday would give the Tigers their longest win streak since 2012, the last time the team went to the NCAA Tournament.

The Tigers celebrate a run during the home game facing UIC.

Saturday

Missouri baseball rode a three-run first inning and four dominant innings of relief from freshman LHP T.J. Sikkema to pick up the 6-4 win over the Illinois-Chicago Flames on Saturday afternoon at Taylor Field.

The Tigers, who will go for the series sweep Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m., picked up their ninth straight win and improved to 9-1 on the year. A win tomorrow would mean the Tigers would have their first double-digit win streak since 2012, the last time the team earned a bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Mizzou got off to a good start offensively, scoring three runs in the first inning on two RBI doubles and a double steal. The team was then able to manufacture runs in the fourth, seventh and eighth to get the victory.

Coach Steve Bieser said he is happy with the approach his team has continued to take to games.

“I’m really satisfied because there have been several situations when we could have let games slip away, but we’ve found ways to battle through [them] and find ways to win a ballgame,” he said. “In today’s game, you started to see the momentum turn their way, but we were able to swing it back and win the last three innings. That’s a good sign for this club.”

Starting pitcher Michael Plassmeyer moved quickly through the first three innings of the game, allowing just one run, before running into some trouble in the fourth, where he gave up two straight singles but forced a groundout and a strikeout to get out of the jam. He was also the beneficiary of a highlight reel play in center field by Connor Brumfield, who raced back to the deepest part of center field and leaped at the wall to make a catch to start the inning.

Bieser said Brumfield’s catch was a huge play in the game.

“That was a lead-off out that he took away,” he said. “If that gets down, it’s extra bases and they’re probably picking up a run there, which totally changes this game.”

The sixth inning also presented some issues for Plassmeyer, who gave up a bunt single and a walk and was the victim of an error by third baseman Ian Nelson before being lifted for Sikkema. Sikkema was unable to get out of the jam, as he allowed one inherited runner to score on an infield single and two more on a line-drive single to left to tie the game at four. He then settled down, however, picking up a strikeout and a fly out to get out of the inning without yielding any further damage.

Bieser said he liked what he saw in Plassmeyer’s start and wished that the sophomore could have gotten more help from his defense.

“We hurt him [with the error],” Bieser said. “That put him in a tough spot. The guy executed a great bunt to lead off that inning, but we’ve got to make the next play.”

After getting out of the sixth, Sikkema was nothing short of dominant for the rest of the game. In the seventh, he worked a perfect inning with a strikeout and then proceeded to strike out the side on 10 pitches in the eighth. Bieser showed complete confidence in him and allowed the freshman to trot back out of the dugout and close the game in the ninth, when he picked up two additional strikeouts and a groundout to get the victory.

Bieser said he recognized Sikkema was going to have a special role on his team during the fall season.

“I knew he would have a role on this team when we needed a guy with swing and miss stuff,” Bieser said. “That’s what he’s been able to provide for us so far.”

On the offensive side, pinch hitter Trey Harris led off the bottom half of the seventh inning with a walk and advanced to third on a single from Kameron Misner that careened off UIC’s second baseman and into center field. Brett Bond was unable to bring Harris in, but Matt Berler picked him up with a sacrifice fly RBI to center to put Mizzou up 5-4, giving them a lead that Sikkema didn’t relinquish.

Sikkema went four total innings, giving up two hits and picking up seven strikeouts. His performance earned him the win to improve to 3-0 on the season and lowered his ERA to 0.55. Sikkema indicated that his continued run of success and his coach’s propensity to use him in high-leverage situations has meant a lot to him.

“It’s a great feeling knowing that I have the confidence of the team and my coach,” he said. “It gives me the extra edge to go out there and throw my best.”

Sikkema said his team wants to continue to play its best baseball.

“We know what we have to do,” he said. “Everything has been going pretty good for us, so hopefully we can just keep it going, [and] if we go out and play our style of baseball we should be fine.”

Friday

Tanner Houck got back to the form that has made him a projected top-10 pick in this year’s MLB Draft, allowing four hits and one run with seven strikeouts over six innings as the Tigers won 7-2 over UIC at the home opener Friday night.

Catcher Brett Bond homered during the game.

The win brought Mizzou baseball to its best start since 2015, when the Tigers began the season 10-1.

The Tigers displayed stellar defense throughout the night, as Matt Berler and Connor Brumfield both made outstanding defensive plays to preserve the lead. Houck said his teammates allowed him to find his rhythm during his start.

“Defense was a great contributing factor to that win,” Houck said. “Everyone was making the plays that they needed to, and that was key.”

The bullpen also continued its fine form with junior Noah Gromacki, sophomore Ty Shoaff and redshirt junior Cole Bartlett all combining to give up only one hit and one run over the last three innings of the game. Bartlett performed well, pitching the last 2 1/3 innings with four strikeouts and no hits. He now boasts an earned run average of 0.90, and he has struck out 11 batters over the course of 10 innings this season.

At the plate, the Tigers lived up to their SEC-leading offensive reputation by amassing seven runs on eight hits and forcing two UIC errors en route to the first home win for coach Steve Bieser, who said he’s happy with how his team is performing.

“It feels good,” he said. “Every win feels good. When you play well and get a W, it’s exciting.”

Bieser has implemented a team-first mentality, especially in regards to the offense, and that approach has paid dividends as MU continues to drive in runs.

“I think everybody is buying into hitting as an offense instead of a bunch of individuals,” Brumfield said. “If you do that, everyone is going to do their job, and our productivity is going to go up.”

Missouri is off to its best start since 2015, when the Tigers began the season 10-1.

Edited by Eli Lederman | elederman@themaneater.com

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