COLUMBIA — There were moments that were frustrating, perplexing and concerning for the Tigers in Missouri's doubleheader against No. 17 Tennessee on Saturday, where Missouri lost both games, 5-1 and 4-1.
Throw those all together and they were enough to overshadow most of the positives from the Tigers' weekend, which began with a comeback win on Friday.
"Lack of focus, that's what (coach Tim Jamieson) was saying," catcher Dylan Kelly said. "Can't do that in this league. Can't take a couple innings off, or a play off, or an out off, or a strike off, or a ball off. Can't take anything off, because we're a talented team, but we don't have talent to be taking plays off or taking certain things off."
Missouri could've used Kelly's exhaustiveness and attention to detail on offense.
The Tigers (9-9, 1-2 Southeastern Conference) loaded the bases thrice in game one, and they couldn't get runs out of any of those situations.
Once, Sean Ullrich struck out swinging. Twice, it was Eric Anderson at the plate when the rally died: He bounced out to short in the fourth and grounded into a double play in the sixth.
In all, the Tigers stranded 12 base runner in that game. They also almost grounded into a triple play in the eighth, when freshman shortstop Ryan Howard froze between second and third as the Volunteers attempted to complete the 5-4-3 double play. Howard was eventually tagged out trying to advance to third, and if Jake Ring hadn't beat the throw to first, Howard would have been the third out.
"He was very much a freshman on that play," Jamieson said.
More frustration would come in the second game, which was moved up from Sunday because of winter weather in the forecast. Saturday, a picturesque day in which temperatures reached the low 70s, wasn't so ideal for the Tigers.
In the sixth, with the game tied 1-1, Jamieson waved Anderson home when Kendall Keeton singled to center. The throw beat Anderson, and while he thought he was under the tag, the umpire disagreed. Anderson punched the air and appeared to be close to spiking his helmet against the dirt.
That single was Keeton's first and only hit of the weekend, as he cooled off precipitously after coming into the weekend hitting .383. In the ninth, he tried to pick a low throw from Howard at short, and when the ball popped out, he slammed his glove against the dirt.
Keeton's lack of production was only one area of concern. There was also Kelly's performance at catcher. The Vols ran freely all afternoon, racking up seven steals between the two games.
"Somebody said something about 'It was a track meet out there,'" Kelly said. "And it was, man. I need to get back to what I've been doing. I need to keep my arm short and get rid of the ball a little quicker."
"Dylan's not a great thrower," Jamieson said. "That's just not his strength."
For most of the second game, though, Missouri's difficulties were tempered by Anderson's excellence on the mound. The fifth-year senior struck out a career-high eight batters in six innings. Though he had to fight through the fatigue from playing two games as a hitter, Anderson mixed his off-speed pitches exceptionally well and consistently put hitters in unfavorable counts.
Austin Tribby and Breckin Williams worked a scoreless seventh, and closer Keaton Steele entered in the eighth.
The typically dominant right-hander, who had reportedly reached 99 mph with his fastball the night before, was suddenly mortal. Taylor Smart doubled to right-center, then Scott Price ripped a ball down the first base line for a triple.
Price scored on a passed ball, and after Christin Stewart walked and advanced to second on a balk, Nick Senzel singled him home. The three earned the runs Steele gave up were the first ones he had surrendered all season.
"That's on us," Jamieson said. "For using him middle of the week, then trying to get two more innings out of him today. He just didn't have it, and he's as good as there is in the league, I can guarantee you that. They took advantage of a guy who was less than 100 percent."
Missouri put men on first and second in the top of the ninth, but once again, nothing came out of it. The giddiness from Friday's 5-2 win over Tennessee had given way to the bitterness that comes when missed opportunities pile up.
The Tigers have games Tuesday and Wednesday against Wisconsin-Milwaukee, which is 3-8. They can regain the momentum they had on Friday, then lost on Saturday, before facing Mississippi in their first SEC road series.
"There's no panic," Anderson said. "We just need to get a couple big midweek wins and really just go after our next opponent and next weekend, because we played alright. We're not panicking at all. We're hungry."
Those are truisms you'd expect to hear from a senior leader. Missouri surely believes them.
"Today sucked," Anderson went on to say.
Supervising editor is Mark Selig.