Tigers form identity with thrilling Big 12 title run

Missouri won its first-ever conference crown before beginning its SEC era.
Senior Conner Mach and junior Blake Brown greet junior Dane Opel at home plate after he hit a three-run home run in a game earlier this season against Texas at Taylor Field. Opel scored two runs in the Tigers' first-ever Big 12 Championship victory over Oklahoma last week. Maneater File Photo

The Missouri baseball’s championship at the Big 12 Conference Tournament gave the team a clean slate.

When the Tigers traveled to Tucson, Ariz., for their NCAA Regional a week later, the Tigers saw three teams they never faced during the season.

Even while basking in the glow of the championship in Oklahoma City, Okla., coach Tim Jamieson acknowledged the temperamental, unpredictable nature of his team’s season.

“We’ve had a lot of ups and downs,” he said to reporters after the title game with Oklahoma. “But you knew it was there, and they came together at the right time.”

And what exactly was “it?” Missouri’s tournament wins ranged from an 8-7 thriller against the Sooners in the championship, to a 12-2 slaughter against Kansas, to a 5-3 win against then-No. 6 Texas A&M. Recent play doesn’t offer any easy answers.

The same is true about the regular season. When the Tigers won, they did it in a myriad of different ways. They slugged their way to a 10-game winning streak at the beginning of the season, scoring 48 runs in four games at one point.

But then there was the Kansas State series in Columbia in which Missouri's pitching held the Wildcats, who had hit .281 that year, to seven runs in three games.

Indeed, an examination of the Tigers’ series wins this season reveals a fluctuation between two fashions: either the bats or the arms got hot.

There was inconsistency in the way the Tigers took two wins from Missouri State, who was 13-7 in the Missouri Valley Conference, but took a 15-1 defeat from Indiana State, who was 14-7 in the MVC.

Missouri won its series against Texas, who finished third in the Big 12 but lost against Kansas, who held the league’s worst record.

Despite frustration during the season, the Tigers remained positive.

“I think we just made a couple of mistakes that can easily be fixed,” junior outfielder Dane Opel said after the Indiana State loss with a 14-run margin.

Missouri’s second-to-last home series was a must-win, and a late comeback against Texas that sputtered into a gutting game one loss could have sunk the season. Though it was the team’s fifth loss in a row, junior shortstop Eric Garcia carried a positive tone.

“We’ll bounce back tomorrow,” he said. “I feel like we’re definitely coming around.”

His premonition was right, and his go-ahead double was key to the Tigers’ 5-4 win in game two the next day.

It would have been tough to pinpoint Missouri’s identity in the regular season. The team never solidified itself as a premier stable of pitchers or a murderer’s row of bats. The inability to be categorized defined the Tigers.

And it was Missouri’s unpredictability that somehow resulted in an undefeated championship run in Oklahoma City.

Jamieson offered a possible answer to what “it” was after the title.

“I just wanted us to come out and play our butts off and execute and be focused,” he said in a press conference. “When you do that, you give yourself a chance.”

"It" peaked in the Big 12 Tournament, when the Tigers were most in need, when the program was competing in the tournament for one last time, having never won the crown in program history.

“It” somehow delivered a championship in MU’s final competition as members of the Big 12.

Now Missouri exits the conference and enters the Southeastern Conference, known for having the country’s premier culture and talent in college baseball. But with this season’s championship, where an often-maddening team suddenly gelled and blew past favored competition, the Tigers know that when “it” is there, almost anything can happen.

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