Missouri baseball heads to San Francisco for three games

Thursday, February 23, 2012 | 9:56 p.m. CST; updated 10:30 p.m. CST, Thursday, February 23, 2012

COLUMBIA — This season, the Missouri baseball team will be trying to prove itself to the Big 12.

It wants to show that last season's Cinderella-run to the conference championship game was no fluke. It wants to prove the Big 12 coaches who voted it to finish in fifth place this season wrong. And, as it prepares to leave the Big 12, it wants to indicate that it belongs in the powerhouse SEC baseball conference next season.

Three games into the season, they are ahead in the count.

Led by Big 12 Player of the Week Dane Opel's impressive opening weekend, the Tigers are 2-1 after claiming a road series victory over future SEC opponent Auburn. Opel opened the season by hitting 6-for-12 against Auburn, depositing two long-balls over the Samford Stadium fence.

This weekend, the Tigers will try to win out West, where they will take on San Francisco Dons (2-2).

In the first game, which is set for 4 p.m. Friday, the Missouri lineup will face a pitcher who, while unfamiliar to Tigers players, will represent the kind of quality arm they will be seeing both in the Big 12 this season and the SEC next season.

"They've got a No. 1 pitcher whose going to be a first-round draft pick, so that's someone we want to be very competitive against," head coach Tim Jamieson said.

That pitcher is Kyle Zimmer. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound right-handed junior has notched the No. 18 position on ESPN baseball writer Keith Law's top 50 high school and college players for this year's Major League Baseball Draft and was named the fourth best pitcher in college baseball.

Armed with a fastball that tops out around 98 miles per hour, Zimmer hardly needs his complementary breaking-ball and developing change-up. He opened his season last week with a brief four-inning outing against San Jose State in which he stuck out three hitters and surrendered only one hit.

If Missouri hopes to have more success than San Jose did against Zimmer, it might need to bring the same bats it slugged 24 hits with against Auburn last weekend. It could also help if the Tigers' own ace, Eric Anderson (0-1), duplicates his six inning two earned-run performance.

Left-hander Rob Zastryzny will pitch in the second game of the series against San Francisco, and Jeff Cline will in the third. San Francisco's Abe Bobb (1-0) and Christian Cecilio (0-1) will start in games two and three as well.

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