COLUMBIA — In order to win the big games against the big teams, you have to make the big plays.
For the Missouri baseball team in its game against Texas on Saturday at Taylor Stadium, it was all about big catches and big non-catches.
In the top of the eighth inning with the score tied at 4 and Texas was threatening to take the lead, a ball was hit towards the gap off the bat of Texas first baseman Tant Shepherd. But Missouri freshman outfielder Dane Opel ran and made a perfect dive to make the catch and keep the game tied.
Had the ball dropped, it would have seemed typical for the way the season has gone for Missouri and Texas. Texas has got all the breaks, while Missouri has usually been a play short.
Missouri catcher Brett Nicholas said Opel’s catch was huge because of Missouri’s struggles this season.
“It’s very important because that’s kind of the thing that we’ve been lacking,” Nicholas said. “That extra hit to get us a run, or that one spectacular play that keeps one or two runs from scoring. That’s what that play was. It kept a couple runs from scoring. It kept us in the game.”
Missouri coach Tim Jamieson said Opel has been one of the team’s best clutch performers in Big 12 Conference play.
“He rises to the occasion in big games,” Jamieson said.
But the Tigers did not rally behind Opel’s catch and break the tie in the bottom of the inning. Instead, in the top of the ninth, a ball was hit to Missouri junior outfielder Jonah Schmidt. Schmidt had the ball in his glove, but it popped out allowing Texas to score two runs for 6-4 victory.
Opel said it’s crucial for Tigers to limit their mistakes against Texas (45-8, 23-3), which is ranked No. 1 in the country in the USA Today/ESPN coaches poll.
“Good teams are always going to take advantage of little mistakes,” Opel said. “That’s pretty much why they won today. They capitalize on things.”
While it was a frustrating loss, it was the second-straight game against Texas that Missouri has been close. The Tigers haven’t been able to pull off a victory, but with the Big 12 tournament starting on Wednesday in Oklahoma City, the Tigers’ confidence level is rising.
Opel said that though the Tiger's 27-24 (10-15 in the Big 12) record might not show it, and the big plays haven’t often gone their way, the Tigers have competed hard all season.
“We’ve been right there with everybody this year,” Opel said. “We’ve shown that. We hang right there. Two games in a row right with the number one team in the nation. It says a lot about everybody here. We’re willing to fight for everything.”
Missouri ends its regular season in the final game of the series against Texas at noon Sunday at Taylor Stadium.