COLUMBIA — Missouri's baseball season ended Saturday with the 15th consecutive loss in Southeastern Conference play.
The Tigers coughed up a four-run lead in the ninth inning, squandered multiple chances for a walk-off hit in extra innings and ended up losing 7-5.
Center fielder Jake Ring, who was on deck when Shane Segovia made the final out, took one more practice swing, his helmet still on his head. Pitcher John Miles walked to home plate to retrieve Segovia's bat.
But there was no reason for Miles to put the bat back in the dugout, so he tossed it into the dirt just in front of the dugout fence. The Tigers' season was finished. They shook hands with the opposing Razorbacks, then exchanged hugs in front of the dugout as the seniors toed the Taylor Stadium dirt one last time.
They finished with a 20-33 record, 6-24 in conference play, ending another season in which they looked woefully overmatched in the SEC.
The reasons for that are numerous, and they probably added up to something greater than their sum.
Eric Anderson stopped carrying the team’s offense from the leadoff spot. His batting average was .339 after the series against Kentucky; he ended the season at .270.
The rest of the lineup, except for catcher Dylan Kelly, went through its own slumps.
First baseman Kendall Keeton was hitting over .400 near the end of nonconference play and finished with a .262 average. Second baseman Shane Segovia never fulfilled the promise he showed early in the season. Shortstop Josh Lester could never pull his average out of the low-.200 range. And nobody hit for power, either: Missouri’s slugging percentage ended up being the worst in the conference by a healthy margin.
A difficult, back-loaded schedule in an abnormally strong year for an already tough conference didn’t help. All but one of the teams — Georgia — that Missouri faced was ranked in Baseball America’s College Top 25 for at least one week. The margin for error in every series was nil.
Ace starting pitcher Brett Graves skidded in his starts later in the year, and Tribby’s sterling early-season performance morphed into a 5.75 ERA.
The Tigers still had opportunities to get wins, though, whether through an odd big inning or a strong pitching performance.
They had multiple-run leads entering the ninth inning in games against Mississippi State and Arkansas, both of which turned into losses. Nine of Missouri’s 24 SEC losses were by two or fewer runs. They wasted plenty of chances for walk-off hits at home.
Jamieson firmly believes that this year’s team was better than the 2013 Tigers, and they were — by a margin of two wins. But 2014 was still a bucket of cold water to the face.
“I think (we learned) the reality of what we have to do to be better,” Jamieson said. “It’s a learning experience. You take the lessons learned from the guys that are coming back (and it) should make them better for next year. And it should make them hungrier.”
The Tigers are losing a number of seniors, chief among them Anderson and Kelly, and there’s a strong chance that both Graves and Steele will bolt after the MLB draft. Steele finished his postgame interview and walked out into the waiting area to find two scouts, one sporting a Chicago White Sox logo.
But Steele likely spoke for the entire team by saying that failure can be the strongest motivator.
“You lose one, you have that sick feeling in your stomach, and you want to go out and get it away,” he said. “And that’s what I’m going to take with me over the summer, and I hope other guys take it too, that I want to get this terrible taste out of my mouth and come back next year and do something.”
Was there anything else to take away from this season, other than motivation?
Supervising editor is Greg Bowers.