Things started out great for Missouri baseball in the finale of a three-game series against No. 1 Vanderbilt on Saturday at Taylor Stadium.
The Tigers jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the second inning and held the Commodores to goose eggs for frame after frame. But in the end, Missouri couldn’t add on and Vandy inevitably took the lead, the game and the sweep, winning 3-1.
Missouri starting pitcher Zach Hise struggled with command, especially when it came to locating his fastball. The freshman put runners on in all four innings he pitched, walking four.
Hise did a great job getting out of the tough spots, though. He held Vanderbilt hitters to 1 for 12 with runners on base, forcing the Commodores to strand eight runners in his time on the mound.
“He was talking to us in the dugout,” Missouri catcher Tre Morris said of Hise. “He was like, ‘I don’t really like I feel like I have my best stuff until runners get on second and third, and then I just lock it in and throw.’”
One run wasn’t going to beat the Commodores. Vanderbilt hasn’t been shut out of a game in 2021, so Missouri knew it would have to keep scoring to stay ahead.
However, the Tigers just couldn’t get anything going and were held scoreless for the final seven innings. The top half of Missouri’s lineup especially struggled — four of Missouri’s six hits came from the last three in the order, including Morris, who went 2 of 4 and hit home MU’s only run.
In hopes that a shakeup would change the tide, Missouri coach Steve Beiser brought in pinch hitters Trevor Austin, Ross Lovich and Jackson Lancaster for Mark Vierling, CJ Cepicky and Torin Montgomery, respectively, who combined to go 1 for 8.
But when Missouri didn’t add to its one-run lead, Vanderbilt clawed its way ahead in the sixth inning. Tigers hurler Konnor Ash, who was in his second inning of work, gave up a leadoff double, then bungled his throw to first after fielding a bunt, scoring the Commodores’ runner. Ash gave up one more before Ian Lohse managed to get the final out in damage control with Vandy 2-1 up.
The Tigers had their chances. Missouri got six runners aboard in the final seven frames but failed to get them any closer to home than second base.
“I thought that their starter was very gettable,” Bieser said. “We just didn’t come up with big hits. We had a lot of opportunities with a runner on second base and there were two outs. We had several of those opportunities and we never came up with the clutch hit in that situation. I think the overall thing is we just didn’t put consistent, tough at-bats together.”
Perhaps the Tigers’ best opportunity to tie the game came in the eighth inning, when Chad McDaniel rolled over a dribbler right into the Commodores’ shift. Vanderbilt infielders had a miscommunication and let the ball roll right into the outfield, giving McDaniel a double. Missouri could have capitalized on the mistake, but Lancaster grounded out on the first pitch he saw.
For good measure, Vanderbilt put one more run across with two outs in the ninth, sealing the game and the series sweep.
It has been a rough weekend for Missouri baseball. Facing off against the No. 1 team in the nation, expectations were not very high, and with the three-game sweep, the Tigers met that low bar.
Vanderbilt lives in the NCAA’s top 25 (which isn’t updated to include Friday and Saturday’s games) across multiple categories on offense and defense, while Missouri is nowhere to be seen. The Commodores are ranked in hits (16th), batting average (16th), home runs (tied for 11th) and runs (17th).
Vanderbilt’s pitching is even better. The staff has outstanding marks in ERA (fifth), shutouts (tied for third), and walks and hits per inning (second).
Quite simply, the Tigers were in over their heads.
“I’m not very happy with the way that we performed this weekend,” Bieser said. “Playing a close game is not something that is our goal. Our goal is to win games. Today, I think, was very frustrating just because we had an opportunity against their No. 3 guy that we felt pretty good about, and we didn’t take that opportunity to score more runs.”