Tiger bats brace for pitching challenge

Top-ranked Texas brings an ERA of 2.34 into its series against powerful Missouri.
Friday, April 30, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 11:54 a.m. CDT, Thursday, July 10, 2008

A difficult conference season for the Missouri baseball team gets a lot more difficult this weekend.

The Tigers play the first of a three-game series at 6:30 tonight at Taylor Stadium against No. 1 Texas in a Big 12 Conference game.

After facing top 15 teams Oklahoma, Nebraska and Texas A&M in their three previous weekend series, the Tigers (25-16-1, 4-10 Big 12) have gained confidence against ranked opponents.

“I really believe we can beat them two out of three if we play good baseball,” Missouri coach Tim Jamieson said. “We got them in our ballpark, and it’s different for them away from home.”

Texas (41-6, 13-4) has relied heavily on its 2.34 ERA pitching staff for success, but lacks a powerful offense with no player hitting more than five home runs. Four Tigers have more than five, with Cody Ehlers leading with 12.

“If you’ve been watching their scores, they’re not blowing anybody out,” Jamieson said. “They’re beating people by not making mistakes.”

The Longhorns lead the Big 12 and have not lost a conference series. No. 2 Stanford is the only team to win a three-game series against Texas, taking two in a Feb. 20-22 series at Stanford.

“We’ve been pretty consistent because our pitching has kind of led the way and we’ve played a pretty high level of defense behind them,” Texas coach Augie Garrido said. “We’ve just been able to put some rallies together when we needed them.”

J.P. Howell has led Texas on the mound, going 9-1 in 11 starts with a 1.90 ERA. Howell has pitched 80 2/3 innings and has held opponents to a .161 average.

Brent Cox and Huston Street have been effective in relief for the Longhorns, earning five saves apiece. Cox has a 0.93 ERA in 22 appearances and 38 2/3 innings.

Ehlers said the Missouri hitters need to find a way to get to the Longhorn pitchers and rely on the strength of their staff that enters with a 3.66 ERA.

“We have to do whatever it takes to get a couple runs across the board,” Ehlers said. “They’re not real strong hitting-wise and our pitching has been doing real well lately, so if we can just find a couple ways to get some runs on the board I think we’ll be all right.”

Texas has been No. 1 in every poll for three weeks, but Garrido said he does not think the attention has affected his players.

“I think what the polls do is motivate the opponent,” Garrido said.

Jamieson said the Tigers are definitely motivated after losing every conference series with the exception of a 2-1 win against Nebraska earlier this month.

“We look at it is an opportunity to play the No. 1 team in the nation and have a good weekend,” Jamieson said.

TIME CHANGE: The final game in the series has been moved to noon Sunday.

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