Several key offensive plays were all the Missouri baseball team needed to beat Baylor on Sunday at Taylor Stadium.
Sophomore Jacob Priday smashed a two-run home run over the left field fence in the eighth inning. The hit, which was over 370 feet long, gave the Tigers a 3-1 vicory. Missouri won two of three to take the series from Baylor (27-19, 10-11).
Although the most flashy play of the game was the fireworks in the eighth, Missouri’s offense first struck with help from a four-year starter.
Senior outfielder Zane Taylor hit a single in a perfectly executed hit-and-run to advance Priday to third. Priday scored when the next batter, first baseman Derek Chambers, hit a sacrafice fly that gave Missouri (21-21, 9-12) a 1-0 lead.
Missouri coach Tim Jamieson said he was confident when he sent Taylor to the plate for the hit-and-run. Taylor doesn’t swing and miss, said Jamieson who has seen Taylor at the plate more than 600 times.
As a freshman, Taylor started 52 games and hit .317.
His sophomore year, his average dropped to .270. He was in and out of the lineup, starting only 36 games after hurting his wrist and suffering an injury to his shoulder which needed offseason surgery.
The turn of events was discouraging and he said he considered quitting briefly, but knew he would always come back to baseball. He returned for his junior season, hitting .321 and starting 43 games.
Taylor said he didn’t change his approach at the plate, but rather his increased confidence helped him bounce back. He said overcoming his injuries was “gratifying,” and it became one of the defining moments of his career.
This season, Jamieson said Taylor’s steadiness and reliability at the plate are his greatest assets. Taylor’s 42 starts are the most on the team and his .308 average is fourth on the team.
Jamieson said he knew Taylor would be a constant for the Tigers after his freshman year.
“He’s as good of a hitter as we’ve seen in a long time,” Jamieson said.
Taylor has moved around in the lineup throughout his career. He has hit in every spot but No. 8. He settled into the No. 3 slot this season, which he says is his favorite.
He moved around in the field, too. Jamieson played him at shortstop, third base, second and first. Before this season, he said he didn’t know where he would be playing, but he has found a home in left field. He worked on longer throws, is errorless in 45 chances and says he is comfortable in the outfield. Taylor said the transition was not physically difficult, The hardest part is staying focused in the field, because the ball doesn’t get hit there as often.
Taylor said he doesn’t think about the end of his career on the field, but it crosses his mind occasionally when he’s not playing. With 172 career starts and 211 career hits under his belt, he doesn’t want to put more pressure on himself by thinking about it. Still, Taylor said he is satisfied he made the decision to keep playing after that rough season.
GAME NOTES: Missouri freshman lefthander Rick Zagone went five innings and did not give up any runs. Zagone, who began the season in the bullpen, said he prefers to start and that he’s glad Jamieson gave him the opportunity. When Zagone came out of the game, he was replaced by Max Scherzer, who went four innings and gave up one unearned run. Scherzer said his arm was 100 percent, and that for the first time in six weeks he felt no pain when throwing. Scherzer got the win.
Priday’s home run was his eighth on the year, which leads the team. He finished 2-for-3 on the day.
The series win was the first for the Tigers since the Kansas State series on March 24-26.