COLUMBIA — It happened again.
Everything, really, in almost the same way it did in Missouri's past home series, against Georgia.
On Friday, the Tigers lost in extra innings and spent their best bullpen arm.
On Saturday, they had the opportunity to mount a strong response and keep the possibility of winning the series.
But Missouri ran into a stud starting pitcher (again) and couldn't generate any significant rallies (again). The Tigers kept the game close early, but their pitching eventually let it slip.
This time, the score was 6-2 against Mississippi State, as Missouri (17-20, 6-11 Southeastern Conference) dropped its third straight home series.
One important difference between this loss and the one to Georgia two weeks ago: After that game, pitcher John Miles and catcher Dylan Kelly bemoaned Missouri's lack of heart, drive and other intangible qualities. This time, the consensus was just that Missouri was outplayed.
"Before the game, everyone was really into it, our (pre-game fielding practice) was really solid," third baseman Ryan Howard said. "I think that our team came ready to play. It just didn't go our way today."
Miles and Mississippi State starter Ross Mitchell battled through the first six innings to a 2-2 tie.
Miles was hit harder, but Mitchell threw two wild pitches in the bottom of the fifth, the latter allowing Howard to score from third to tie the game.
Howard adjusted his approach to favor hitting the ball to the opposite field and went 2-for-3 on the day, but he was one of the only Missouri hitters to come close to solving Mitchell.
Mitchell, rail-thin and pants hitting just above his ankles, didn't make any mistakes high in the zone and stayed off the middle of the plate. He only struck out three hitters in his nine innings but induced 16 groundouts.
"He competes, and everything he throws just goes down, and we just beat it into the ground today," Howard said.
The Bulldogs pulled away in the sixth inning. Miles let two batters reach, and then relief pitcher Breckin Williams gave up a walk, a single and another walk. Austin Tribby, in relief of Williams, walked another run in to make the score 5-2.
"It felt like, once John came out, the rest of that inning we just weren't attacking hitters," coach Tim Jamieson said.
Like the game against Georgia, sophomore Alec Rash threw the last two innings and struck out three. And also like that game, Missouri couldn't dent the deficit it faced.
Another home series, another series loss. The Tigers will try to prevent a sweep Sunday at 1 p.m. with hot starter Eric Anderson on the mound.
"Really, all three series at home, even though Tennessee wasn't identical, all three of them have felt the same," Jamieson said. "...We've got more wins and a better winning percentage on the road, against really, in my opinion, better competition. I can't explain it."
What's different is when it happened. After Sunday's game, they only have two more opportunities at home — against Vanderbilt and Arkansas — to get a series win. The need to win is becoming more urgent for a team that's in jeopardy of missing the 12-team SEC tournament.
After the game, pitching coach Matt Hobbs gathered the entire pitching staff in the team's small clubhouse auditorium, where they met for about 10 minutes.
Hobbs was the first to walk out, and the pitchers followed one by one until Griffin Goodrich was the last one left. He sat and stared into space, resting his chin in his hand.
He eventually got up and walked out. As disheartening as Saturday's loss was, the Tigers have to move on.
Supervising editor is Mark Selig.