COLUMBIA — Missouri center fielder Jake Ring is a freshman, and with that first-year status comes a certain wide-eyed astonishment at the level of competition he's facing.
The transition from high school ball isn't going to be simple, but in Missouri's 6-4 win over Southern Mississippi on Saturday, Ring displayed definite improvement.
Ring went down looking in his first at-bat on Saturday on four pitches. At that point, it was his 13th strikeout in 27 at-bats this year. It was like many of his earlier whiffs: He tried to feel out a pitcher's stuff and approach, but before he knew it, he was down two strikes. When in a deep hole, a strikeout is tough to avoid.
In his second at-bat, Ring worked the count to 3-2, then lined out to center. In his third, he hit a 1-1 pitch hard up the middle and reached on a fielder's choice. Progress.
"I've just been working a little more on being more aggressive," Ring said. "When I get a little passive, I tend to strike out."
Then, in the eighth inning, he shortened up and lined the third pitch of the at-bat into left for a single. With his above-average speed now in play, Ring advanced to third on a hit-and-run, then scored on a double steal to give the Tigers an insurance run. Keaton Steele finished off Southern Miss in the ninth to give Missouri a win to clinch the weekend series.
"I think for him (Ring), he's a freshman, eyes are pretty big at the beginning of the year, now he's starting to (go) 'Hey, you know what, I can play at this level,'" coach Tim Jamieson said.
Missouri (6-6) again got runs early in the game, this time putting up three in the first. Three straight walks issued by A.J. Glasshof loaded the bases for Dylan Kelly. On a 1-2 count, Kelly cast his bat out on an outside pitch and poked a soft line drive between the shortstop and third baseman to score Lester. Dillon Everett singled and Jake Ivory was hit by a pitch to bring in two more runs.
John Miles started on the mound for Missouri. Apart from a three-run third inning (two of those runs were unearned) and a leadoff double in the sixth, he was plenty effective. Primarily a fastball-changeup pitcher, Miles worked in his breaking ball more, which helped him tally six strikeouts.
"I think it was a combination of what those guys could hit and how well I was throwing it," Miles said. "I threw it well today, and those guys weren't hitting it. So, you know, stick with what's working."
Southern Miss (6-9) came close to tying the game in the sixth, but a particularly bizarre double-play helped the Tigers get out with the lead.
Bradley Roney hit a high popup to shallow right field. Lester ranged back from his position at second, but the ball dropped behind him for a single. Right fielder Jake Ivory threw to third to get one out, then Zach Lavy, assuming the play was over, tossed the ball back to pitcher Breckin Williams.
Roney tried to catch the Tigers' defense napping, though, and made a break for second. It was ultimately unsuccessful, as he was tagged out.
Steele threw both the eighth and the ninth innings to get his fourth save of the year. Missouri goes for the series sweep on Sunday at noon. Senior righthander Eric Anderson will get the start.
Supervising editor is Mark Selig.