The Missouri Tigers baseball team followed up its first Southeastern Conference victory of the season last Saturday with its first SEC series win on Sunday. Now, after beating SIU Edwardsville on Tuesday for its third straight win, the Tigers are trying to keep their momentum going.
Coach Tim Jamieson’s squad, which is 18-13 overall and 2-7 in SEC play, now hosts Auburn (14-15, 2-7) on Thursday, Friday and Saturday at Taylor Stadium.
Jamieson described his team as more confident and relaxed after winning two of three games at Arkansas last weekend, the first two SEC victories after losing seven straight to open the season.
“I think when we won that game on Saturday — and that was a tough game to win, even though we had a three-run lead — then on Sunday everybody exhaled and we played much more relaxed, much looser, and I think you saw the results because of it,” Jamieson said.
It’s certainly something to build on for the Tigers.
“I think we’ve been playing pretty good on the weekends, with exception of one game here, so I think the the weekend was, hey, we can do this,” Jamieson said. “We’re certainly much more confident right now than we were before going into Arkansas.”
The challenge for Mizzou going forward is to keep it going.
The Tigers will throw righties Reggie McClain (3-1, 2.58) and Tanner Houck (3-2, 2.76) on Thursday and Friday against Auburn right-handers Cole Lipscomb (1-3, 5.61) and Justin Camp (2-1, 4.57). On Saturday, Mizzou freshman lefty Michael Plassmeyer (2-2, 5.13) will go against Auburn lefty Andrew Mitchell (4-1, 4.17).
Missouri is averaging 7.5 runs per game over its last six contests, going 4-2 during that stretch, and has found more consistency up and down the lineup swinging the sticks.
The Tigers have a chance to make some noise in the SEC during the second half of the season, but they need to continue to get strong all-around play — from their starting pitchers, bullpen, offense and defense.
“I think just continuing to get good pitching from Reggie and Tanner, we have to get that,” Jamieson said. “I think our bullpen needs to get a little better and (Grant) Macciocchi has a chance to make us better in the bullpen. Plassmeyer really stepped forward in his start against Arkansas. His velocity was up in his first conference start. Those things are important, but I still think Trey Harris and Brett Bond and Ryan Howard and Shane Benes had good weekends in Arkansas and there’s no coincidence that we won two out of three and those guys were swinging the bats well.”
Auburn, which is coming off a win over Georgia State on Tuesday, is 10th among NCAA teams with a .322 team batting average and has eight or more hits in 15 of its last 16 games.
“I know they can swing it a little bit,” Missouri senior first baseman Zach Lavy said, “so hopefully we can keep up with their bats and D it up behind our pitchers and hopefully our pitchers can fill up the zone and just come out fighting.”
The Auburn Tigers have five regular starters batting .352 or higher.
Junior center fielder Anfernee Grier (.427, seven HRs, 25 RBIs, 41 runs, .523 OBP), junior left fielder Joshua Palacios (.408, five HRs, 23 RBIs, 33 runs), junior designated hitter-first baseman Niko Buentello (.364, six HRs, 35 RBIs, 23 runs), senior designated hitter Jordan Ebert (.362, nine doubles, 23 RBIs, 27 runs) and junior catcher Blake Logan (.352, seven doubles, 27 RBIs) have paced an offensive attack that is averaging 7.6 runs per game.
Howard, Missouri's junior shortstop, said this will be an important series to get things going in the right direction.
“We’re a little bit past halfway through the season now and I feel like this is our window that we need to be getting things going here because the college season’s so short and that window closes,” Howard said. “… We had a tough 0-6 start or whatever we were but also we were playing really good teams and we were right there with them. We just have to know that we’re as good as they guys and just bring as much intensity as we can.”
Going into this three-game series, Jamieson is looking for his team to keep playing the game the way they’ve been playing.
“Auburn can really swing the bat and are one of the better offensive teams in the league,” Jamieson said. “Their two wins are against LSU and Texas A&M, so we know they are capable. We have to take advantage of mother nature, because she’s not going to be very kind, I don’t think, to Auburn, we have to take advantage of where we’re playing right now and just get after them.”