Sikkema shuts down LSU
When the Missouri baseball team takes batting practice, TJ Sikkema sometimes takes on the rare role of a left-handed shortstop.
“He says, ‘Coach, let me play short,’” infielder Paul Gomez said. “It’s good to see him out there being an athlete.”
In a dominating start Saturday, Sikkema showed off all the tools needed to play shortstop for real: a strong arm, great athleticism and considerable confidence. He struck out 10 hitters over seven one-run innings Saturday, stealing the show in a 4-1 win for Missouri (24-12-1, 6-7-1 Southeastern Conference) over LSU (24-12, 9-5) at Taylor Stadium. Sikkema mixed his pitches excellently throughout, keeping LSU off the scoreboard until one run snuck through in the seventh inning.
“The slider was working really well today, along with the fastball, so that combination really gave them a tough time with the amount of lefties that they have in their lineup,” Sikkema said.
He kept LSU, with six left-handers among its starting nine, to just three hits while throwing 113 pitches. In typical Sikkema fashion, the high pitch count meant little to the lefty.
“I’m used to going 120, 130 pitches,” Sikkema said. "It’s more mental than anything.”
He has consistently pitched deep into games this season, and it doesn’t seem like his skill diminishes any as the innings wear on. Sikkema’s ERA actually remained unchanged after Saturday’s seven-inning, one-run performance, a clear testament to the season he’s had.
And while Sikkema baffled LSU hitters all afternoon, Missouri did enough to give its starting pitcher his fourth win of the year. Gomez doubled down the third-base line to bring in the game’s first run in the second inning.
“I was hoping it got past the third baseman there, and it did,” Gomez said. "It’s always good to score first."
Kameron Misner did what he does best in the fifth, working a four-pitch walk to put Missouri up 2-0. Brock Mathis plated a run for LSU off Sikkema in the seventh with a groundout, but MU added two more runs in the seventh to provide a nice cushion.
Reliever Ian Bedell was planning to pitch just the eighth in Sikkema’s wake, but as soon as his Tigers added the two extra runs, it was decided that Bedell would finish the game. He came in protecting the 4-1 advantage.
“The motto is, ‘Once you have a lead, never give it up,” Bedell said.
He didn’t even come close to violating the mantra, closing it out with two scoreless innings and allowing just one hit. Head coach Steve Bieser has continually deployed Sikkema on Saturdays in order to keep the Tigers’ ace in the swing game of important series, and with another win, Sikkema rewarded the strategy. He also set up a crucial rubber match slated to start at noon Sunday.
With a win, Missouri can even its SEC record and trade wild dreams of the NCAA Tournament with realistic thoughts.One obstacle in that case, though, is that the Tigers won’t have lefty Tyler LaPlante ready for Sunday’s ballgame, Bieser said. Junior left-hander Art Joven will get the start.