COLUMBIA — As usual, the Missouri baseball team vibrated with energy before Sunday’s game against No. 9 Vanderbilt.
After the Tigers finished their baserunning drills, with pitcher Tyler House pantomiming a left-hander’s motion and the players taking their leads, Josh Lester and Zach Lavy jumped high in the air and bumped backs.
The players gathered to watch the pregame video on the scoreboard, exchanged high-fives and huddled up once more before running out onto the field in the top of the first.
But after Keaton Steele’s first pitch to leadoff hitter Dansby Swanson, everything came back to earth.
Swanson scalded a ground ball down the third baseline that bounced out of the reach of diving third baseman Ryan Howard. Three pitches later — after a sacrifice bunt and ground ball from the Commodores — Swanson scored.
Sunday’s 3-1 loss was another game in which the Tigers (20-27, 6-18 Southeastern Conference) didn't lack effort and intensity but were simply outplayed by a talented, high-ranked opponent.
"I think guys are giving a great effort," Missouri coach Tim Jamieson said. "We're just falling short, and we're playing good competition that…one, are better than us or two, (are) playing better than us."
Steele, who threw a complete game in the loss, said he felt "nothing at all" after Swanson's double.
"Balls get hit hard all the time, so it's nothing new," he said.
Did Steele think he missed the spot?
"My job is to throw a first-pitch strike, and that's what I was doing," he said.
In the third inning, Steele allowed a single and walk to put runners on first and second base, then hung a breaking ball that Xavier Turner hit off the left-field wall. The hit was high and looked to be playable by Missouri left fielder Dillon Everett, but Jamieson chalked him not making the play up to a combination of inexperience — Everett is a converted infielder — and abnormal wind patterns. Jamieson acknowledged, though, that it should have been an out.
A two-run deficit so early on isn't usually a death knell, but it turned into one for the Tigers as Vanderbilt kept trotting out right-handed power arms from the bullpen. Starter Tyler Ferguson loaded the bases after a spell of wildness in the fourth inning and Adam Ravenelle proceeded to walk in the Tigers' only run. Missouri had just four hits in the game, its lowest total of the series.
"We didn't have a lot opportunities, but I can't fault our hitters in terms of their effort, their approach," Jamieson said. "We just weren't good enough."
The loss was Missouri's ninth in a row in conference play. The team was swept for the third straight series. Despite all the positivity Jamieson and the team showed in the face of defeat, frustration sometimes bubbled up.
Missouri voiced its dissatisfaction with a few calls home plate umpire Randy Watkins made in the bottom of the third inning, and while Jamieson was conferring with Watkins after the inning ended, the umpire ejected Tigers assistant coach Kerrick Jackson, who was talking from the dugout.
The team responded with a round of applause. Pitcher Griffin Goodrich gave Jackson a pat on the back as the coach walked out.
After Commodores pitcher Brian Miller finished the Tigers off in the ninth inning and the teams shook hands, first baseman Kendall Keeton swiftly removed his jersey as soon as he left the field.
"It's just a grind every day," catcher Dylan Kelly said. "Good teams aren't going to let you win, and we need to keep trying to win and keep working hard every day to win…we're trying to end up like them. We're trying to be like Vanderbilt and we're trying to be like all these other top-notch teams in the SEC."
Missouri's next game is Friday against South Carolina in Columbia, S.C.