By Zach Garcia
The Missouri Tigers baseball squad salvaged the weekend series against the visiting Auburn Tigers (25-18, 7-14 SEC) with two wins on Sunday but did quite a bit more for themselves in the Southeastern Conference standings.
With the 3-1 Game 1 win and the 4-1 victory in Game 2, Missouri (15-24, 7-14 SEC) catapulted itself into a tie with Auburn for No. 11 in the SEC. With only the top 12 teams earning a berth to the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala. in May, Missouri is very much on the bubble but helped its chances with a strong finish to the weekend.
“(This is) certainly going to help. This was a series against a team that, even though we have the same record, we’re now ahead of them in the standings,” Missouri coach Tim Jamieson said following the Sunday wins. “We haven’t been great this year, but we’ve at least been resilient. We come out just about every day and compete.”
While Missouri and Auburn now have identical SEC records, Missouri owns the head-to-head tiebreaker thanks to this weekend’s series win. Complete SEC standings through Sunday’s action can be found below.
||Games Behind 1st
||SEC Series Remaining
|1) Vanderbilt (VANDY)*
|| @USC, @Kent, BAMA
|2) LSU (LSU)*
||FLA, @A&m, OLE M
|3) Arkansas (ARK)
|| @Kent, TENN, @Aub
|4) South Carolina (USC)
||VANDY, UGA, @MSU
|5) Florida (FLA)
|| @LSU, AUB, @UGA
|6) Alabama (BAMA)
|| @MSU, MIZZ,@Vandy
|7) Ole Miss (OLE M)
|| @Aub, MSU, @Lsu
|8) Mississippi St. (MSU)
||BAMA, @Ole M, USC
|9) Kentucky (KENT)
||ARK, VANDY, @Mizz
|10) Texas A&M (A&M)
||MIZZ, LSU, @Tenn
|11) Missouri (MIZZ)
|| @A&m, @Bama, KENT
|12) Auburn (AUB)
||OLE M, @Fla, AUB
||Games Behind 12th
|13) Tennessee (TENN)
||UGA, @Ark, A&M
|14) Georgia (UGA)
|| @Tenn, @USC, FLA
* = clinched berth in SEC tournament
In Game 1 of Sunday’s doubleheader, junior Keaton Steele paced the Tigers to a 3-1 win. Steele was the starting pitcher and also the cleanup hitter for Missouri, and turned in strong outings in both roles.
The former SEC Pitcher of the Week pitched seven innings – a complete game because of the doubleheader — while giving up six hits and recovering from a first inning run to coast towards the win. Steele struck out two Auburn batters and surrendered one walk, improving to 4-2 on the season.
On offense, Missouri scored all they would need in a three-run third inning. Third baseman Shane Segovia led off the inning with a hard-hit single to right field, and the next hitter, center fielder Logan Pearson was hit by pitch as he was trying to lay down a bunt. After shortstop Dillon Everett managed to move both runners over with a successful bunt of his own, right fielder Dane Opel was also hit with a pitch.
Steele then hit a sacrifice fly to left field to bring in Missouri’s first run. Catcher Dylan Kelly followed with a single that brought home two more runs.
Auburn’s Michael O’Neal earned the loss, finishing with six innings pitched, three hits, three runs and three strikeouts. His record fell to 8-3 on the season.
Missouri followed the same blueprint in taking Game 2, benefitting from some timely hitting while backing itself with strong pitching. Steele was again a focal point, breaking a 1-1 tie in the bottom of the fourth inning with a deep solo home run to left field.
In a touch of irony, Steele again hit a deep fly ball that just went left of the left field foul pole to begin the at-bat – looking nearly identical to a deep foul in Game 1. Steele finally hit the tie-breaking homer four pitches later.
“From what I’ve seen, (the two deep fouls) were like a hand length, pretty much, so right around eight inches (from the foul pole),” Steele said, who was back in the lineup as the designated hitter for Game 2. “I’m glad I put the other one a little more straight.”
Missouri scored two more runs in the inning, as third baseman Shane Segovia hit a bloop single just between Auburn’s center fielder, right fielder and second baseman with two outs in the fourth inning. The hit scored Dylan Kelly and Kendall Keeton, who both walked to reach base, bringing the score to 4-1.
Neither team would score again in the final three innings.
Segovia was among the most unlikely of heroes, as he entered the day with just a .145 batting average – the worst on the Missouri lineup. The junior went 3-for-4 with a run scored and two runs batted in during Sunday’s doubleheader.
“It builds confidence, that’s for sure,” Segovia said of his breakout day. “I always saw that there was some light at the end of the tunnel, and today – what a coincidence, the sun came out.”
Starting pitcher Brett Graves picked up the win for Missouri, pitching five innings while allowing one unearned run on three hits. The win was Graves’ first of the season. Justin Camp (1 1/3 innings pitched, three runs on one hit and two walks) was tagged with the loss for Auburn.
Jake Walsh and Eric Anderson pitched successfully in relief for the Tigers but didn’t make it look easy. Walsh loaded the bases with one out in the seventh inning before striking out Ryan Tella. Anderson had to throw just one pitch to seal the final out, getting Auburn second baseman Jordan Ebert to fly out to left field to end the game.
Following the doubleheader sweep, Missouri returns to the diamond for a midweek matchup with Southeast Missouri State (20-25) on Tuesday. First pitch is scheduled for 6 p.m. at Taylor Stadium.