Missouri’s bats were slow to wake up from winter hibernation.
It took two games before they were roused, but when they were, they were loud.
Missouri baseball picked up its first win of the 2021 season, 9-7 in the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader against Grand Canyon. The Tigers started off the day on the wrong foot, however, dropping the opener 8-4.
Seeing new pitching was tough, especially after a COVID-19-lengthened offseason, but Missouri hitters were by and large very quiet in their first two games of 2021. Too often Missouri’s bats rested on the shoulders of the hitter while the home plate umpire signaled the third strike with a punch.
Missouri did show progress from the day game to the evening, cutting its strikeout total from 13 on Friday to 10 in the first game Saturday and five in the second.
One of the few exceptions to the slow start was Chad McDaniel. The designated hitter’s bat was awake, going 2 for 5 in the opener, roping a solo shot over the right-field fence in the fourth to give Missouri its first run of the day. Cameron Swanger also homered to right in the afternoon, his two-run shot coming in the top of the sixth to cut the Tigers’ deficit to 6-3.
Others got in on the action in the night game. Alex Peterson, Mark Vierling, Clayton Peterson and Luke Mann all had multiple hits under the lights. Third baseman Mann had four of the Tigers’ eight RBI, with three coming from a huge home run to right in the sixth. The blast gave Missouri a 7-5 lead it was able to keep.
Unlike Friday, Missouri’s defense lacked luster. A few errant throws crisscrossed the diamond as if the Tigers were having a snowball fight in Columbia rather than a ballgame in Phoenix. The play was not without highlights, like a Josh Day pick and throw at second, but for a Missouri team that prides itself on clean play, the effort was disappointing. The gusty wind and bright sun played a factor on fly balls and lead to more than one drop in the outfield.
Backup catchers Mike Coletta and Tre Morris played well behind the dish in place of regular starter McDaniel, who is still rehabbing from hip surgery. The two picked up three outs on the basepaths, two with back picks to first and another caught stealing at second.
Missouri pitchers, thought to be a strength heading into the series, had problems keeping the ball in the zone. As a staff, they issued 14 free passes over the course of both games. When GCU hitters were not walking to first, they were running after a hit. GCU went 21 for 65 against Tiger pitching.
The only answer Missouri had for the red-hot Antelope bats was grad student Spencer Juergens, who came in to relieve Game 2 starter Seth Halvorsen in the third inning. Juergens was not exactly overwhelming, only getting two strikeouts, but he got the results the Tigers needed. He shut out GCU for 4 innings in the middle of the second game. Hitters like Ryland Zaborowski, who could not be fooled in the first two games of the series, could not get a barreled ball against the Tiger reliever.
That was until Juan Colato took a Juergens fastball deep to right for a two-run home run. The longball cut the Tigers lead to 8-7 in the eighth and chased Juergens from the game. Freshman Zach Hise came in and did not fail under pressure, getting the final four outs and giving up a single hit.
The Tigers will try to build on the success they saw Saturday evening into the series finale at 1 p.m. Sunday in Phoenix.