Mizzou baseball hopes to build further foundation after victory over No. 21 Georgia
At the beginning of April, Missouri baseball appeared to turn a corner.
A three-game winning streak displayed the Tigers' potential despite being a younger squad than most of their Southeastern Conference competition.
But six straight losses followed an April 9 victory over South Carolina, and things didn't look promising to buck the trend Friday night as No. 21 Georgia came to Columbia — the Tigers hadn't defeated the Bulldogs at home since May 14, 2016.
Missouri starting pitcher Seth Halvorsen's first pitch of the game unintentionally sailed behind the head of Georgia leadoff hitter Josh McAllister.
That errant pitch, however, proved to be nothing more than an oddity in a quality outing.
Halvorsen didn't give up a hit until the fifth inning, and that was the only hit the sophomore right-hander allowed over 114 pitches in seven innings. The Tigers utilized consistent offense — including two-run home runs by Cameron Swanger and Tre Morris — to quell their skid and defeat the Bulldogs 6-4 at Taylor Stadium.
Missouri never trailed, with three of Georgia's runs coming with two outs in the ninth.
The Tigers improved to 12-23 overall and 5-11 in the SEC.
"We have a lot to play for still," Halvorsen said after the victory, "and we have a lot of fired-up guys. Offensively today, defensively today, they just played a really solid game. Let's keep that going, for sure."
Only the top dozen SEC teams will qualify for the conference tournament, with Missouri ranked No. 12 after Friday night.
While late-season magic would be needed to enter the conversation for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, there's much more than 2021 for the Tigers to build for.
Developing the roster for many years to come is one of Missouri coach Steve Bieser's biggest priorities. He doesn't want a win over a ranked opponent to be a major achievement. Bieser wants the major achievement to be defeating Missouri.
"I believed all along rolling into the second half, we have a ton to play for," Bieser said. "We've got three series at home and we like playing at our home park.
"... We feel good about this club. We haven't won the games, but we have competed, we've been right there. We just needed some breaks, and hopefully the ball can start bouncing our way a little bit, and you've got to force that and make that happen as well. And I thought that was kind of the attitude today. Guys were aggressive, trying to make things happen and weren't playing scared."
After finishing a three-game set against Georgia on Sunday, the Tigers have four SEC series remaining, including against Mississippi State and Tennessee — which are both aiming to make College World Series trips.
The Tigers' other two SEC opponents left this regular season, Alabama and Auburn, were either at the bottom of the league (Auburn) or even in conference play entering Saturday (Alabama).
Just like what Bieser saw in his team's last home SEC series against Texas A&M, Missouri was engaged from the start against Georgia.
"I wanted to see exactly what we saw today," Bieser said. "We saw a complete game. It started on the mound with Seth and he was really sharp early. You could tell that he was in that type of game and groove, that he was going through the strike zone. And anytime Seth's going through the strike zone, we know good things are going to happen.
"But really pleased, defensive play again was outstanding. And then the unselfish at-bats the guys were taking today had a really good approach."
Only time will tell if Friday's win over Georgia was another false turning of the corner or a true foundation-starter for the Tigers.
Yes, plenty can be learned from a loss and used later.
But long-term success depends on victories like Missouri had Friday night.
Contact Eric Blum at email@example.com. Follow @ByEricBlum on Twitter.
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