COLUMBIA — Outfielder Scott Sommerfeld's already teeth-revealing grin grew wider at the comment.
"It's good to see you smiling again," said Columbia Daily Tribune reporter Matt Nestor, who has covered the Missouri baseball team for the past several seasons.
Sommerfeld, a senior who has spent most of this season on the bench, had just made his first start at home since April 24 after being inserted back into the lineup during the Tigers' series last weekend at Alabama.
Sommerfeld, who led Missouri with a .312 batting average in 2012, scored two runs in the team's 4-2 win Thursday over Kentucky. Fellow senior outfielder Brannon Champagne, also a year removed from being a major contributor, chipped in with one run and an outfield assist after riding the bench for most of the season. His start Saturday at Alabama was his first since April 6.
Although Missouri coach Tim Jamieson called Champagne "mainly a defensive replacement" earlier in the season, he had a hunch that the time was finally right to get him and Sommerfeld back in the lineup.
"If you look at numbers it doesn’t make any sense because the guys we replaced had better numbers, but they gave us a spark in the Friday night game against Alabama," Jamieson said. "It’s a chemistry thing."
In the three games since their returns to the starting lineup Saturday, Sommerfeld and Champagne have had at least one hit, and Sommerfeld has scored in all three games. Even after being benched for most of the season, Sommerfeld is glad his opportunity came during the team's stretch run.
"We’re fighting for a spot in the SEC tournament as everybody knows and I’m just so pumped to be able to contribute," Sommerfeld said. "It’s just exciting to be back out there."
After a loss to Illinois in early April, Jamieson said a big part of whether Sommerfeld gets back in the lineup would be how he handles being on the bench. Since then, Sommerfeld said he has experienced both frustration and acceptance of his new role on the team. His coach said Sommerfeld's ability to stay invested in the team is a big reason for his newfound success.
"The different emotions you go through, it’s tough. Then you kind of accept it. Then maybe the next thing would be apathy, you sort of stop caring," Jamieson said. "But he never stopped caring, about the team or stopped working hard. That’s part of the bigger reason he's doing well right now."
With Thursday's win and a Tennessee loss to Texas A&M, the Tigers are only a win or a Tennessee loss away from clinching the final spot in the Southeastern Conference tournament. As for whether the two seniors will be in the lineup going forward, neither Sommerfeld nor Champagne was willing to make any guesses.
"I have no idea, but I’m prepared for it. So if I am great, if I’m not, that’s fine too," Champagne said. "Main thing is to get W’s any way we can."
The middle game of Missouri's three-game series against Kentucky is set for 6 p.m. Friday and will be followed by the home finale Saturday.