COLUMBIA — It was a tough day to be a Missouri left fielder.
Missouri outfielder Case Munson jogged out to left field for the top of the eighth inning. He brought a ball from the dugout, and threw it hard across the outfield to the right fielder Dane Opel.
He heard his name, turned around and saw a teammate jogging toward him. It was fellow outfielder Brannon Champagne, and he was coming to replace Munson. The two exchanged a few words before Munson, with a look of frustration on his face, walked slowly back to the dugout.
In the bottom half of the previous inning, Munson made a mistake — a bad mistake — that cost him his spot in the game. After singling to left field to put a runner on second and the potential game-tying run on first, Munson lost his focus. With the count at 2-2, Munson watched the umpire call the next pitch a ball, and took a few big steps toward second base.
"He thought it was a full count," Missouri head coach Tim Jamieson explained after the game, an 8-3 loss to San Francisco on Saturday.
By the time Munson realized he had the count wrong, the ball was on its way to first base. He slid head-first, only to be tagged by the waiting San Francisco first baseman.
"This is Division I baseball, you don’t make mistakes like that at this level," Jamieson said. "It’s a sign he’s not in the game mentally, not where he should be."
When Jamieson replaced Munson with Champagne, a four-year Missouri veteran, he couldn't have imagined he'd make a mistake that would rival Munson's.
"It was made by a senior, too, that’s been out there quite a bit," Jamieson said.
Yet with San Francisco runners on second and third in the ninth inning of a tie game, Champagne misplayed a hard hit ground ball that rolled and rolled and kept on rolling. Champagne helplessly gave chase, but by the time he picked up the ball at the wall, the San Francisco hitter was already rounding third. A tie game was out of reach for the Tigers in an instant.
Jamieson doesn't know whether Munson, Champagne or someone else will start in left field Sunday. He does know, however, that it will be the player with the most sound mindset.
"I have to see who’s focused during pregame," Jamieson said.
The left fielders weren't the only Missouri players to make crucial errors late in the game. In fact, it was third baseman Keaton Steele's errant throw that put two of the runners Champagne let score in scoring position, and cost Missouri a top-of-the-ninth out.
Faced with a bunt dribbling down the third base line, Steele charged it and scooped it before throwing wildly past first baseman Michael McGraw. Steele said he was looking out for McGraw by aiming left of first base.
"Bad throw on my part; overshot left side," Steele said. "I didn’t want to throw to the right side. I didn’t want to get him killed by the runner going down."
Costly mistakes late in games had been a theme for Missouri prior to its three-game win streak this week. With his team back in the loss column, Jamieson said he saw his team revert to its old ways.
Catcher Dylan Kelly expressed frustration, knowing that the Tigers are capable of performing at a high level.
"When we play our game, I feel like it’s very crisp and we know what we’re doing, we have a great mindset," Kelly said. "But when we get away from that mindset it’s not too pretty for us."