No love lost between Missouri, Kentucky baseball

Jaren Shelby’s bat flip on Friday night set the stage for tension-filled series between the SEC foes.

When Kentucky outfielder Jaren Shelby roped Jordan Gubelman’s fastball over the Missouri bullpen on Friday night, 905 fans at Taylor Stadium watched the ball sail through the night sky to give the Wildcats a 4-2 lead.

Shelby watched it too, and he took about two seconds before starting his jog to admire his shot, then flipped his bat for exclamation. As he rounded third base, his customary salute with third base coach Roland Fanning pointed into the Mizzou dugout.

It was the latest chapter in a recent SEC rivalry, one that junior left-handed pitcher T.J. Sikkema said he started his freshman year. On April 15, 2017, Kentucky right fielder Tristan Pompey hit two homers off then-Missouri pitcher Michael Plassmeyer. Entering in relief, Sikkema plunked Pompey in the ninth inning.

MU coach Steve Bieser theorized that former Tiger outfielder Trey Harris began the feud with his signature home plate stomp after a homer in Lexington last year. However it started, the result is two teams that don’t like each other and look forward to their annual series.

“If you talk about a rivalry, these are the two teams that really don’t care for one another,” Bieser said on Friday. “We get after it every time. Our games have been tight. We lost there last year, a walk-off home run to lose the series there, and this was a game we should have won.”

Shelby bested the Mizzou pitching staff again on Saturday, hitting a three-run homer off Konnor Ash in the eighth inning. While that homer didn’t feature the theatrics of Friday’s blast, it didn’t sit well with Sikkema that Shelby was once again on top.

With Sikkema taking the mound Sunday, a competitor described by sophomore catcher Chad McDaniel as someone who “doesn’t have a smile on his face” when he pitches, there was a possibility Shelby would pay for his showmanship with a fastball between the 3 and 0 on his back.

“It was definitely on my mind,” Sikkema said. “I was definitely aware of what happened, what was going on between the two teams but I thought it was a little bit bigger diss to just strike him out, get him out, and I didn’t find the right situation to where I could have [hit him] and not put the team in a bad spot, so I just went out there and pitched.”

Sikkema settled for retiring Shelby twice in their three matchups. That’s all the retribution he gave Kentucky in the series finale, even after Austin Schultz led off the game with a homer of his own and stomped on home plate.

Tiger hitters got in on the retaliation when center fielder Kameron Misner and designated hitter Peter Zimmermann connected on back-to-back home runs in the seventh on Sunday. Both juniors stood at home plate to watch their homers leave the yard, and tossed their bats, similar to Shelby.

Misner insisted that he didn’t have the rivalry in mind during his homer, that he was taking in the moment when he flipped his bat and didn’t care about the teams’ past with each other.

“When we’re up five runs, there’s not much you can say other than you’re already beating them, and it’s bad enough they lost the series,” he said.

Zimmermann, however, made it clear that he was taking out some frustration of the Wildcats after his dinger three pitches later. Although this is his first year at Mizzou, Zimmermann said his dislike of UK dates back to last year with some “shady things” the program did during the recruiting process while he was at San Jacinto Community College in addition to what transpired this series.

“You watch them do their little salute to our dugout after they hit their home runs,” he said. “Today, Schultz stomps on home plate after the first at-bat of the game. If they’re gonna do it, we’re gonna throw it right back at them.”

Edited by Adam Cole | acole@themaneater.com

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