COLUMBIA — The Missouri baseball team had lost its first two games — one Friday evening and one Saturday afternoon — against No. 5 South Carolina. But heading into the second game of the day Saturday, the third of the series, the Tigers said it was their opponents who seemed defeated.
"They came walking in earlier; they all had jackets on," pitcher Keaton Steele said. "I heard three or four comments bicker back and forth, ‘We know you guys are cold, we know you guys are cold.'"
After playing the series opener in balmy conditions — 70 degrees at first pitch — the weather took an unpleasant turn Saturday. But with snow in the forecast for Sunday, the teams had no choice but to play through 40-degree temperatures and a drizzle that started between games Saturday.
Catcher Dylan Kelly said his team saw an opportunity to take advantage of the Gamecocks' discomfort.
"They were sitting in the dugout just kind of sitting down, not up on the steps," Kelly said. "They looked like they didn’t want to be there. We just felt like we could’ve stole two, let’s do it this one, and battle and make them play us tough."
After dropping the first game of the doubleheader, 2-0, Missouri recorded its first win in Southeastern Conference play, 4-0.
First-year South Carolina head coach Chad Holbrook said the conditions weren't a factor. They were the same for both teams. Steele disagreed.
"We’re not cold at all," Steele said. "We took ground balls the other day when the wind chill was 4 degrees. I wasn’t cold, that felt like I was on a beach."
After jumping out to an early 3-0 lead in the second game of the day, South Carolina began pushing back in the third inning. With runners on first and third with one out, Gamecock first baseman L.B. Dantzler hit a pop fly deep to center field. Tiger center fielder Logan Pearson caught, then threw the ball in what seemed like one motion.
Pearson's throw was a missile locked onto its target: Kelly's glove. The catcher snagged the ball without it ever bouncing, and had plenty of time to make the tag at home plate.
"That was like a stomp on 'em," Pearson said. "We just had all momentum at that point and they weren't ever coming back."
They didn't. Kelly scored another Missouri run in the seventh to put a bow on top of the program's first win in its new conference.
Following the game, Kelly reflected on the milestone. He breathed a long, deep sigh of relief before sharing his thoughts.
"Oh, man," Kelly said. "It was a long push."
Philip Joens contributed to this report.
Supervising editor is Greg Bowers.