One month ago, things were looking bad for outfielder Jacob Priday. After two seasons of honors and acclaim as one of the most reliable and powerful bats in the Missouri lineup, he started 2007 struggling in the field and slumping at the plate.
Priday’s mistakes in the field brought coach Tim Jamieson to replace him in almost every game with the less experienced but better fielding freshman, Aaron Senne.
And as Priday’s batting average continued to dwell in the low .200s more than two months into the season (it dropped briefly below .190), Jamieson said in March he was not sure how much longer he could wait for Priday to work out of his struggles at the plate before taking him out of the lineup altogether.
How long ago one month must feel to Priday.
After nearly two months of struggles and frustration at the plate, Priday has returned to “where he’s supposed to be,” according to Jamieson: the fourth spot in the Tiger lineup.
The opening of Big 12 Conference play on March 23 seems to have ignited Priday’s confidence. His .304 batting average in conference play is Missouri’s third best, and his 15 conference RBIs are second only to freshman (and seemingly pressure-proof) catcher Trevor Coleman.
In Missouri’s (30-12, 11-6) first two games against Texas Tech this weekend, Priday batted fourth in the Tigers lineup and continued to find success under the added pressure and responsibility the position brings. Priday hit a double, triple and home run and tallied five RBIs over the course of Friday and Saturday’s wins over Texas Tech at Taylor Stadium. The Tigers defeated the Red Raiders 10-4 on Friday night and 12-7 on Saturday afternoon.
Priday says he’s now seeing the ball well, feeling comfortable at the plate and generally thinking a lot less.
“I’ve learned to not think about it so much when you’re not (playing in the field) and watching everybody else play,” he said after going 2-for-4 with three RBIs on Saturday.
When asked why he seems to have found rejuvenated confidence during the most stressful period of the season to this point, Priday offered only a knowing, self-reflective bit of irony.
“I think I’m thinking less,” he said with a grin.
Priday’s big day at the plate on Saturday wasn’t all that it took for Missouri to overcome the Red Raiders (25-20, 7-12) for the second time in as many days. Starter Rick Zagone suffered his second early exit in a row after a sometimes-efficient, sometimes-ugly 4 2/3 innings of work. (Last weekend against Baylor he was replaced after two innings after allowing six runs off six hits.)
Zagone seemed to be back to the form that earned him co-National Pitcher of the Week honors earlier this month in Saturday’s first two innings, giving up only one hit without a walk through the first two frames.
But things changed for Zagone and Missouri in the third inning, as the Red Raiders found a rhythm against Missouri’s No. 2 starter. Texas Tech scored four runs off of four hits in the inning and sent Zagone’s pitch count soaring.
Missouri’s batters responded in kind in the bottom of the third inning with four runs. Leadoff center fielder Evan Frey scored the second of his four runs to help bring Missouri back into a 5-4 lead.
A three-run home run by right fielder Ryan Lollis, whose 40 RBIs this season are a team best by 10, gave Zagone some breathing room in the bottom of the fourth, but the Red Raiders again gave Zagone trouble in the top of the fifth inning.
Although Jamieson had hoped to keep the left-hander in through the rest of the inning, three two-out hits resulting in three more Texas Tech runs forced his hand. Jamieson replaced Zagone with freshman Greg Folgia with two outs in the top of the fifth.
After several innings of back-and-forth scoring, Folgia simplified things for the Tigers for the rest of the game. Folgia did not allow a hit in 4 1/3 innings and allowed only two batters to reach first base to earn the win and improve his season record to 4-3.
Even though he has certainly been Missouri’s most improved player as of late, after Saturday’s game Priday was quick to point out that it took the entire Tiger lineup to earn 12 runs against the Red Raiders, the fourth time Missouri has scored over 10 runs in its past five games.
“All nine were involved in the win today, and that’s how it needs to be,” he said. “We looked good up and down the lineup.”