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May 19, 2009

Tigers prepare for Big 12 Tournament

No one covers Tiger athletics like PowerMizzou.com. This year, we've added baseball coverage to our top-notch football and basketball beats. To follow the Tigers year-round, sign up today to start your Free Seven-Day Trial.

On Wednesday, Missouri will begin the Big 12 Tournament with a match-up against the Texas A&M Aggies. The Tigers enter the tournament as a three seed and have a chance to host a regional if they survive against the rest of the conference. It's been a long road back to the top.

"To think that if we go and win the Big 12 tournament we got a chance to host is pretty amazing," Missouri ace Kyle Gibson said. To come from 1-7 and to work our way back to .500 at 18-18, then 20-20, and now 34-23 is pretty amazing. We've had a good little streak here."

After their series win against Cal State Bakersfield this past weekend, Missouri could only wait to see what seed they would have for the tournament. After Kansas defeated in-state rival Kansas State, the Tigers locked up the three seed. It's their second highest finish in the Big 12 since this tournament format began in 1997.

This season, the Big 12 has proven to be one of the toughest conferences in baseball. Texas finished at the top, just a half game above the Oklahoma Sooners, and Missouri was only a game behind Oklahoma.

"It's fun. It's almost like an all-star game," Greg Folgia said. "You see all the best teams in the conference and everyone is showing up to play in this one-week series. I think it's fun. We get to see everyone again. We know them all, we know all their players. We have all the information, we just need to go beat them."

The current format of the tournament takes eight of the ten Big 12 teams with the best records. These teams are split into two pools. In Missouri's side, the Tigers will face up against the Aggies, Texas Tech and Oklahoma. Whichever team has the best record will advance to the championship game. If there is a tie, it will be determined by head-to-head match-up and then whichever team entered with a higher seed.

Missouri had the chance to play all these teams at home this year where they were a combined 6-3. The Tigers were able to sweep the Red Raiders and faced the other two teams when they were still struggling at the plate.

"You want to be playing your best baseball at the end of the year, and I don't know if we're doing that yet, but we're a heck of a lot closer now than we were at the beginning," coach Tim Jamieson said.

Entering the tournament, Missouri has won 11 of their past 13 games, and they have won eight of their past nine conference games. After a slow start to the season, Missouri finally turned it around after their series with the Baylor Bears. Now, along with the Sooners, the Tigers are one of the hottest teams heading into the tournament.

Because this tournament happens in a matter of the days, Jamieson will have a decision to make on which pitcher to throw out on which day. Does Jamieson use Gibson (9-3, 3.69) in the first game, or does he try and wait until they match-up with the Sooners in the third game? According to Jamieson, he is still making that decision, but he said he will probably start Gibson in the first game before relying on Nick Tepesch and Johnny Wholestaff.

The Tigers will be led by senior Kyle Mach who has a career-high 15-game hitting streak and the red-hot Greg Folgia. Folgia leads the Tigers in R.B.I. (64), home runs (12) and average (.340). When it comes to their bullpen, Jamieson will be relying on the side-ball thrower Phil McCormick and Brad Buehler who has seven saves on the year.

First pitch is set for four on Wednesday. Here is a breakdown of the teams Missouri will face in their pool.

Texas A&M (34-21, 14-13) entering the tournament: The Aggies enter the tournament as the No. 6 seed after being swept by Oklahoma in their final series of the year. They have lost five of their past six Big 12 games and are just 2-8 against the other teams on this side of the bracket. Missouri took two-of-three games from Texas A&M back in March.

Aggies on the Mound: The Aggie pitching staff has the second lowest E.R.A in the Big 12. They are led by sophomore pitcher Brooks Raley (7-2, 3.09) who went toe-to-toe with Gibson when the two teams squared off. Nick Fleece (4-1, 2.08) anchors the bullpen and has five saves on the season.

Aggies at the plate: The Aggies sit in the middle of the Big 12 when it comes to hitting. They hit for power with six batters with over 40 R.B.I. and three hitters with 11 or more home runs. Leading the charge is Luke Anders who is hitting .312 with 12 homers and a team-leading 49 R.B.I.

Texas Tech (24-30, 12-15) entering the tournament: The Red Raiders will make their way to Oklahoma City as the No. 7 seed in the tournament. This is their first trip to the Big 12 Tournament in two years and only six players have tournament experience. Texas Tech has lost five-straight tournament games and will face no easy task to break this streak when they take on the Sooners. The Tigers swept the Red Raiders in April.

Red Raiders on the mound: Pitching has put Texas Tech behind the eight ball all year. Their team E.R.A. is last in the Big 12, and they have allowed more walks than any other team. Missouri will probably see AJ Ramos when they take on the Red Raiders. When Ramos faced Missouri earlier this year, he gave up eight runs in six innings of work in the loss.

Red Raiders at the plate: Although Texas Tech is last in pitching, they are the top hitting team in the Big 12. Willie Rueda currently has an 11-game hitting streak and Taylor Ashby and Scott LeJune have 47 two-out R.B.I. between them. Chris Richburg leads the team in runs (50), home runs (12) and R.B.I. (58)

Oklahoma (40-16, 17-10) entering the tournament: The No. 8 Sooners are one of the hottest teams entering the tournament and earned the two seed with a season-ending sweep of the Aggies. The Sooners are the only team in the Big 12 to win 40 games this season, and they are tied with Texas with seven conference series titles. They won the crown in 1997 and have won five of their past six conference games. Oklahoma took two-of-three from Missouri in three close games in April.

Sooners on the mound: The Sooners are third in the Big 12 when it comes to pitching. Led by Andrew Doyle, Oklahoma's starters have a combined record of 20-9. When it comes to their bullpen, Ryan Duke has been a lock-down closer with 14 saves this season.

Sooners at the plate: Oklahoma has the second best average in the Big 12. They make their living off extra base hits and Bryant Hernandez has provided a team-leading 58 R.B.I. Their biggest bat is J.T. Wise. Wise has a .375 average, which includes 17 home runs. On Tuesday, Wise was named the Big 12 Player of the Year.

No one covers Tiger athletics like PowerMizzou.com. This year, we've added baseball coverage to our top-notch football and basketball beats. To follow the Tigers year-round, sign up today to start your Free Seven-Day Trial.

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