By Zach Garcia
The Missouri baseball team endured a rough road trip, dropping all three games of a weekend series at the hands of No. 3 Vanderbilt Commodores (33-4, 14-1 Southeastern Conference) in Nashville, Tenn.
In losing three in a row, the Tigers (12-20, 4-11 SEC) were outscored by a combined run total of 39-10 and surrendered double-digit run counts in each of the three losses.
While Missouri’s starting pitching corps has arguably been strong this season, poor performances on the mound sunk the Tigers. None of the Tigers’ starting pitchers (Rob Zastryzny, Brett Graves and Keaton Steele) were able to make it through five innings in their starts and combined to allow 24 runs (23 earned) while only striking out a combined 12 batters. All three starting pitchers were also charged with losses.
At the plate, Missouri produced several strong at-bats but were overmatched by Vanderbilt’s consistent offensive production. Leadoff man Case Munson and Dylan Kelly led the tigers at the plate. Munson reached base six times and lifted his first collegiate home run just over the left field fence and off of a low-standing scoreboard during Saturday’s game at Hawkins Field. The sophomore outfielder finished the series with three runs batted in. Kelly continued a season-long hot streak on offense, reaching base four times and holding his batting average steady at .333.
Missouri will begin this week’s action by finishing a home-and-home series with Missouri State (21-10). The Tigers beat the Bears in a tightly contested 5-4 game last Tuesday in Springfield, and the in-state rivals will face each other once more for a 6 p.m. game Wednesday at Taylor Stadium.
Friday: Vanderbilt 11, Missouri 5
The Tigers squandered two early-inning leads, including a 4-3 mark after an inning and a half, as the Commodores eventually powered their way past Rob Zastryzny and four Missouri relief pitchers. Zastryzny was tagged with his sixth loss of the season after giving up six runs on eight hits and four walks in 4 innings pitched. He also struck out six. Missouri pitchers Jake Walsh (three runs in an inning pitched) and Peter Fairbanks (two runs on two batters faced and no outs recorded) were also roughed up, but John Miles pitched two scoreless innings. Missouri outfielder Dane Opel hit his third home run of the year, a solo shot in the seventh inning, but Vanderbilt countered with three home runs of its own – including two from outfielder Connor Harrell.
Saturday: Vanderbilt 12, Missouri 1
Case Munson hit a home run in the fourth inning to put the Tigers on the board, but it was all Vanderbilt for the rest of the afternoon. The Commodores used a strong effort on the mound from starting pitcher Tyler Beede (7 innings pitched, three hits and 10 strikeouts with no walks) and 19 hits at the plate to cruise to their second win of the weekend. Missouri starting pitcher Brett Graves was battered around, giving up nine earned runs on 12 hits in 4 1/3 innings to fall to a personal 0-5 mark on the season.
Sunday: Vanderbilt 16, Missouri 4
The Tigers managed a better output on offense Sunday, scoring three times on a rally in the fourth inning and adding another run in the seventh, but the Commodores were once again too much for visiting Missouri to handle. Vanderbilt set a season-high mark for runs in the blowout, led by Connor Harrell’s four hits and four runs batted in. Reigning SEC Player of the Week Keaton Steele was inserted into the lineup as both the starting pitcher and the third hitter for Missouri on Sunday but faltered in both slots. He went hitless in three at-bats on offense and lasting only 3 2/3 innings on the mound, giving up nine runs (eight earned runs) on eight hits and four walks.
Quick hits from the weekend:
• With a 4-11 record midway through its Southeastern Conference schedule, Missouri is ranked 13th in the 14-team SEC Conference standings with fifteen more conference games to play. Only the top 12 teams qualify for the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala. in May, and the Tigers currently trail both Auburn (5-10) and Tennessee (5-10) by one game in the standings. Georgia (3-12) is one game behind Missouri.
• Missouri pitcher Eric Anderson saw his first action since the opening weekend of the season this week, with relief appearances against both Missouri State and Vanderbilt. Anderson, a junior from Highlands Ranch, Colo., was one of Missouri’s top starting pitchers in 2012 before receiving Tommy John Surgery in May. He had a minor restrain of the injury following the Memphis series in February and was brought along slowly by the Missouri coaching staff for precautionary reasons. Anderson pitched a scoreless inning against Missouri State on Tuesday but surrendered two runs on three hits over two innings in Sunday’s loss to the Commodores.
• Sunday’s game concluded a stretch in which the Tigers played 11 of 15 games away from Taylor Stadium. They went 5-10 over the 15-game span. Missouri will play 12 of their final 18 games at home.