COLUMBIA — Confetti rained down at the MU Student Center on what MU Chancellor Brady Deaton called a "historic day." Southeastern Conference commissioner Mike Slive ceremonially accepted a Missouri football helmet from Deaton as he beamed with excitement. The date was Nov. 6, 2011, and Missouri was officially moving to the SEC.
Fast-forward 496 days and take a one-mile drive south on Providence Road to Taylor Stadium. It's there that the Missouri baseball team will finally receive its true welcome from the class of the conference, No. 5 South Carolina.
No. 5 South Carolina (15-2)
at Missouri (5-7)
WHEN: 6 p.m. Friday (Rob Zastryzny), 2 p.m. Saturday (Brett Graves), 1 p.m. Sunday (Either Keaton Steele or Alec Rash) projected Missouri starter in parentheses
WHERE: Taylor Stadium
RADIO: KTGR/103.1 & 100.5 FM, 1580 AM
Missouri and South Carolina will play a three-game series, beginning Friday, to open their conference schedules.
The Gamecocks, who wrapped up their nonconference schedule with a 15-2 record, are the two-time defending SEC East champions. They have appeared in the past three College World Series championships, winning in 2010 and 2011 before falling to Arizona in 2012.
"They’re a really good baseball team; they’re gonna do things right," senior Missouri outfielder Dane Opel said. "But we’ve played good teams, so-called good teams, in the past and had really good success, so I mean we’re ready for it."
The Tigers didn't face a single Top 5 opponent during the 2012 season in which they won the program's first Big 12 Conference tournament championship on their way to the NCAA Tournament. Even so, Opel's fellow senior outfielder Scott Sommerfeld shared his confidence.
"They’re a great team, but we can’t get caught up in all that," Sommerfeld said. "I remember as a freshman I kind of came in big-eyed with all these big-name teams, but once the first pitch is thrown it’s still baseball, so it’s the same game."
First-year South Carolina coach Chad Holbrook shared his thoughts on Missouri after his team's 12-4 victory Wednesday over Davidson. His focus was the Tigers' Friday night starter, Rob Zastryzny.
"He threw very well last weekend against San Francisco, and you look at the people he beat last year, and it looks like he can be dominant," Holbrook said. "We are facing an elite pitcher on Friday, so we will certainly have our work cut out for us."