South Carolina evens series against Missouri baseball

Reid Glenn

A day that started with hope for Missouri baseball ended with disappointment.

On a three-game winning streak, including an upset Friday night against No. 11 South Carolina, the Tigers had every reason to expect big things in their Saturday meeting with the Gamecocks. Expectations were not fulfilled as South Carolina (20-9 7-4 Southeastern Conference) evened the series, downing Missouri 11-1 in Columbia, South Carolina.

Spencer Miles was on the mound for the Tigers (11-18, 4-7) and he was humming through three innings. After being demoted from the Friday starter role, Miles looked back in preseason form. The righty worked swiftly though South Carolina’s lineup, sitting down eight batters in a row from the first inning through the leadoff man in the fourth.

Miles’ offense kicked into gear in the half-inning before. First baseman Torin Montgomery led off the top of the fourth by working an 0-2 count to 3-2 before doubling. Brandt Belk, coming off a four-double night in the opener, hit Montgomery 90 feet closer to home, grounding out to first. Montgomery came in to score two batters later on a wild pitch, putting Missouri up 1-0.

The lead wouldn’t stick around for long because Miles got into some trouble in the fifth. The sophomore gave up two singles before Brady Allen stepped up to bat. Allen homered thrice last weekend in South Carolina’s series win over Georgia and he continued his slugging streak with a three-run blast to give the Gamecocks the lead.

A 1-2-3 top of the sixth forebode bad news for the Tigers. Miles put the first two batters on via a single and a hit-by-pitch and then balked to put both runners in scoring position with no outs. Miles managed to get first baseman David Mendham to ground out, but walked the bases loaded in the next at bat. The walk ended Miles’ day at 5⅓ innings, five strikeouts, six hits and one walk. Miles took the loss, falling to 1-6.

Missouri coach Steve Bieser went to Shane Wilhelm out of the bullpen, a strange choice for such a high-pressure situation. Wilhelm entered the two-run game with the bases loaded with just one out after having only appeared for 1⅔ innings in two games for Missouri this season. Wilhelm threw more pitches in the dirt of the left-handers’ batters box than the strike zone and walked the only two batters he faced, pushing the Tigers’ deficit to four.

After Wilhelm’s disappointment, Bieser went to the more conventional Spencer Juergens, who didn’t fare much better. Juergens got out of the inning, but not before giving up four more runs, one each on a walk, and a sac fly and two on wild pitches. By the time the Tigers got out of the sixth, they found themselves out of the ballgame down 9-1. The Gamecocks hung two more runs on Juergens in the eighth inning before Cameron Pferrer got the last two outs of the game.

Missouri batters couldn’t replicate the offensive outburst they had Friday. In addition to Montgomery’s double, Mark Vierling, Josh Day, Cameron Swanger, Mike Coletta and Ty Wilmsmeyer all had base knocks, but couldn’t string them together to add up to runs. Missouri hitters left eight teammates on base, while three Tigers struck out more than once: Montgomery, Andrew Keefer and Wilmsmeyer, who was rung up on three occasions.

The loss is a blow to Missouri’s confidence, but a win Sunday would make for a huge series win against a ranked SEC opponent. To even have the opportunity to win the series is impressive for the Tigers, who lost six straight before their three-game win streak. Righty Zach Hise (0-3, 5.62 ERA) is expected to pitch for Missouri.