Preview: MU baseball to face off against No. 8 LSU

The Tigers of Columbia have gone 4-1 in their last five games.
Redshirts junior Jordan Gubelman throws a pitch against Kentucky during the April 5-7 series. Missouri won the series 2-1. Marco Storel

SEC games haven’t been easy for Missouri baseball so far this season.

A weekend before the halfway point in conference play, the Tigers sit in third place in the SEC East behind No. 2 Georgia and No. 7 Vanderbilt.The team is 5-6-1 in SEC play after a series win against Kentucky, and if the season were to end on April 7, Missouri coach Steve Bieser thinks his squad would be headed to a NCAA Regional.

“There’s no doubt in my mind,” Bieser said after last Sunday’s win against Kentucky. “But there’s so much left that… we really have to continue doing what we do and that’s playing the game the right way and let it take care of itself.”

In its first postseason projection on April 2, D1 Baseball had Missouri (23-11-1) ranked as a three seed in the Stanford Regional along with Stanford, UC Santa Barbara and Stony Brook. The latest USA Today Coaches Poll also has the Tigers receiving four top-25 votes.

Missouri is ranked No. 26 in D1 Baseball’s Rating Percentage Index, which evaluates the quality of wins and losses based on a team’s strength of schedule, and has the ninth highest RPI in the SEC.

Despite having a conference record under .500, the Tigers have gained momentum since being swept by Arkansas in March. The team has won or tied its last three series against SEC opponents, going 5-3-1, including a series win against then-No. 20 Ole Miss and a series tie against then-No. 11 Texas A&M. Both teams have higher RPI’s than Missouri.

“We played Arkansas... Texas A&M… Ole Miss, and they are the top teams,” Bieser said. “We’ve made adjustments and we’ve responded very well, I think, for the last three weekends.”

Its next test will be No. 8 LSU, which travels to Columbia, Missouri, for a three-game set starting Friday.

The Tigers of Baton Rouge come into the weekend 23-11 and 8-4 in the SEC, but just 3-7 in true road games. They are tied for first in the SEC West with Arkansas, which swept Missouri in the first weekend of SEC play, and Ole Miss.

The Tigers of Columbia will have to navigate a talented LSU lineup, led by SEC Player of the Week Josh Smith. In LSU’s last series against Texas A&M, Smith hit 6-for-12 with a double and two home runs. The junior is among five starters with a .300 batting average or higher with at least 77 plate appearances.

On the other side, Missouri could be an arm short in the series. Senior Tyler LaPlante, who exited his start against Kentucky with elbow tightness, is questionable. If LaPlante doesn’t start, junior Art Joven will likely be his replacement. As of Thursday, the Sunday starter is listed as to be determined.

“We’ll give [LaPlante] the time that he needs to recover,” Bieser said.

Joven, who didn’t start against SIU-Edwardsville Tuesday, isn’t ruled out to start in the weekend series. He did, however, make an appearance out of the bullpen. Joven threw 19 pitches over one inning in the Tigers’ 10-3 win. After scuffling for a couple series, junior Kameron Misner broke out of his slump against Kansas State and Kentucky, collecting at least one hit in each contest and putting an exclamation point on Sunday’s win with a towering home run. While the hitting has slowed, Misner still has a .459 on-base percentage, and is the co-leader in the NCAA with 42 walks.

“Am I?” Misner said, grinning, when told he led the country in walks Sunday. “I didn’t know that. After what I’ve been doing, it’s nice getting on first base.”

Hitting behind Misner, junior Peter Zimmermann has burst onto the scene as Missouri’s designated hitter. The St. Louis native is hitting .321 in 78 at-bats and four home runs. Despite being called a station-to-station player by Bieser after a 17-2 win against Kansas State on April 3, Zimmermann is also 4-for-4 in stolen bases.

“I’m slow; I’m very slow,” Zimmermann said. “I grew up watching [Albert] Pujols and Yadi [Molina]. Those guys were slow, but Albert Pujols could steal 10, 12 bags a year for awhile there because, smart baserunner. That’s kind of how I have to do it.”

With a series win against Kentucky last weekend, Bieser thinks his squad has the momentum to continue playing well, but also mentions that the preparation will be key.

“You’ve gotta keep it on,” he said.

The Tigers on Tigers matchup will play games at 6:30 p.m. Friday and 5 p.m. Saturday. The series will conclude at noon Sunday in the weekend’s only day game.

Edited by Emily Leiker | eleiker@themaneater.com

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