Offensive woes apparent in 4-2 loss to South Carolina to likely end Missouri’s season
The Tigers won just four of their last 14 SEC matchups.
May. 24, 2018
Wednesday’s first-round, single-elimination SEC Tournament matchup against the South Carolina Gamecocks was in many ways emblematic of the Tigers’ season as a whole. The offense struggled to get anything explosive going, instead relying on small ball to manufacture a few runs while wasting another quality starting pitching performance.
The Tigers lost to South Carolina, 4-2. This loss eliminated them from the Southeastern Conference Tournament and, in all likelihood, takes them out of the conversation for an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament.
In many respects, this game was one the Tigers let slip away. TJ Sikkema, pitching on short rest, was able to muscle through four innings of work and allow just one run. Meanwhile, the offense was able to push two runs across in the top of the fourth, although they missed an opportunity to blow the game open.
After Connor Brumfield and Trey Harris reached base with singles to start the inning, a wild pitch advanced them both into scoring position. Brian Sharp was able to get Brumfield home with an RBI groundout, advancing Harris to third. Zach Hanna then connected with a run-scoring single to left field, scoring Harris. After Chad McDaniel walked, the Tigers had runners on the corners again with only one out, but Brett Bond killed the rally by hitting into an inning-ending double play.
The Gamecocks started to get to Sikkema in the bottom of the fifth, tallying three straight hits and scoring a run before head coach Steve Bieser went to his bullpen. Andy Toelken inherited a mess, with runners on second and third and no one out, but was able to pitch out of it and keep the 2-1 lead intact.
As the Tiger bats lied dormant in the later innings, the Gamecock bats finally woke up. They beat up on Toelken, who had been reliable all season long, for three runs. They tied the game with a bases loaded walk, went ahead on a sacrifice fly, and added an insurance run on an RBI single.
Now trailing by two runs and with six outs to extend their season, the Tiger offense was unable to produce down the stretch, tallying just four hits total on the evening. The 4-2 loss all but eliminated the Tigers’ already slim hopes at an NCAA appearance.
The Tigers will likely miss out on the NCAA Tournament for a sixth consecutive season. They have not qualified since joining the SEC in 2013. They also have not had a winning record in conference play since 2009, while still playing in the Big 12 Conference.
Despite likely coming up short of the big dance, the Tigers accomplished a lot this year. They finished with a mark of 34-22 overall, including a 22-3 record in non-conference play. They were also a perfect 12-0 in midweek matchups.
Although he came into the position with hopes of yearly NCAA appearances, coach Bieser has made great strides already in just two years at the helm. His 69 wins in his first two seasons are the most for any coach in school history. His Tigers have came up one or two victories short of a tournament appearance in each year, but the amount of talent returning seems to indicate the drought could end next year.
On a 35-man roster, only six were seniors this year, and no juniors are likely to enter the MLB draft. On offense, Harris and Bond will be big losses, but most of the other production returns.
On the pitching staff, all but two will return: Toelken and Nolan Gromacki, a middle reliever. What will return on the Tigers’ pitching staff is quite promising: the three-man rotation that emerged of Sikkema, Michael Plassmeyer and Tyler LaPlante will all be back. The three all ranked in the top 15 in the SEC in earned run average, and the Tigers as a staff had the top ERA in SEC play, at 3.99. Closer Nile Ball will also return.
With another year under Bieser’s tutelage, the bulk of the pitching staff returning, and hope for a healthy Kameron Misner, there is real reason to believe the Tigers will be included in the NCAA field next year.
Edited by Adam Cole | firstname.lastname@example.org