Missouri baseball benches last season's top performers

Thursday, April 4, 2013 | 11:19 p.m. CDT; updated 11:24 p.m. CDT, Thursday, April 4, 2013
Missouri infielder Michael McGraw bats against San Francisco University on March 9 at Taylor Stadium. The Tigers lost 8-3.

COLUMBIA — Missouri outfielder Scott Sommerfeld stood on the metal bench inside the Missouri dugout at Taylor Stadium, the blue lenses of his sunglasses resting atop his closely buzzed hair. Whether he gets back into the Tigers’ starting lineup depends on how well he warms the bench.

“I think how he handles being on the bench is a big part of whether he gets another opportunity,” said Missouri coach Tim Jamieson. “So far (he’s been) OK. Not great, but so far OK.”

Sommerfeld rarely found himself on the bench in 2012. As a junior, he was the Tigers’ top hitter with a team-best batting average of .312 in the regular season and .417 during the team’s postseason run to the NCAA tournament. He started 52 of Missouri’s 61 games and appeared in 56.

But even with the Tigers struggling to put runs on the board — they have scored three runs or less in 16 of their 24 games — Sommerfeld has mostly remained in the dugout as of late.

In 43 at-bats this season, the senior from Manchester, Mo., is hitting an uncharacteristically low .186. He has gone seven games without a start for the Tigers and has only 14 through 24 games.

Jamieson’s reluctance to put Sommerfeld in the lineup is a big change from his stance earlier this season. After Sommerfeld failed to record a hit during the Tigers’ first four games of the season, the coach insisted he needs to stay in the lineup.

“Scott’s gotta play,” he said following a doubleheader in March against Eastern Michigan. “Scott needs to be a big part of our offense. He needs to be in the middle of our lineup and be a guy we can count on.”

Sommerfeld isn’t the only key contributor from 2012 riding the pine this season.

Senior outfielder Brannon Champagne, the Tigers’ main leadoff man in 2012, didn’t record his first hit of the season until Tuesday in the team’s 24th game of the season. Of his 13 appearances this season, only four have been starts, amounting to a total of only 19 at-bats. Jamieson said Champagne, who started 52 games last season, is “mainly a defensive replacement at this point in time.”

Michael McGraw, the Tigers’ starting designated hitter in 2012, has started only nine games this season and appeared in a total of 12. His current average of .156 is a far cry from last season’s .306, including .370 in the postseason.

“If you look at their numbers, they had their opportunities and have not done well with them,” Jamieson said. “The guys that are in the game now have performed better than those guys.”

The Tigers left Columbia on Thursday for Athens, Ga., where they will face the Bulldogs in a three-game series this weekend. Missouri currently holds the 12th and final spot for Southeastern Conference tournament eligibility, but Georgia trails by only a game. To be successful, Jamieson is hoping for contributions from both his starters and the bench.

“You’d like to have everybody contribute in some way, whether it’s on the field or from the bench or wherever it happens to be,” Jamieson said. “The guys on the field have been outperforming the guys on the bench, but everybody needs to help.”

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