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January 21, 2008

Top 25 Countdown: No. 12 Missouri

Head coach: Tim Jamieson
Last season: 42-18, 19-8 in Big 12
Postseason: After finishing second in conference behind Texas, the Tigers were awarded a Regional. There, the Tigers were in the driver's seat but dropped two-straight contests to red-hot Louisville. It was still a memorable season for Mizzou.
2008 breakdown: Probable starters | Overview | Offense | Starting pitching | Bullpen | Outlook

Overview

Missouri was close to going the distance last season.

After finishing second in conference behind Texas, the Tigers were awarded a Regional host. They took care of Kent State and Louisville in their first two games, but were unable to seal the deal against the Cardinals.

With last season serving as some motivation, the Tigers enter 2008 with something to prove.

The Tigers are led at the plate by hard-hitting veteran Jacob Priday. Sophomores Aaron Senne and Trevor Coleman hope to build on successful freshman campaigns, while Kyle Mach and Ryan Lollis have the ability to be special players.

MISSOURI TIGERS
Senior designated hitter Jacob Priday has the Tigers thinking about Omaha.

Probable Starting Lineup
C Trevor Coleman
1B Steve Gray
2B Greg Folgia
SS Lee Fischer
3B Kyle Mach
OF Aaron Senne
OF Kurt Calvert
OF Ryan Lollis
DH Jacob Priday
SP Aaron Crow
SP Rick Zagone
SP Kyle Gibson

The pitching staff is also in great shape.

Junior right-hander Aaron Crow is one of the nation's top pitchers and prospects, while left-hander Rick Zagone has the ability to be a front-line starter.

Sophomore right-hander Kyle Gibson is the most important pitcher outside of Crow. Gibson served primarily as a reliever last season, but makes the move to the weekend rotation this spring.

The Tigers aren't flawless but have the ability to get to Omaha.

Offense

With the return of five consistent contributors this spring, the Tigers are confident they will score runs.

Missouri is led at the plate by veteran designated hitter Jacob Priday and sophomore outfielder Aaron Senne.

Priday batted .297 with 13 homers and 59 RBIs last season, while Senne ended the year hitting .289 with seven homers and 43 RBIs.

The Tigers also believe in Kyle Mach, Ryan Lollis and Trevor Coleman.

Mach hit .294 with two homers and 25 RBIs last season, while Lollis batted .294 with three homers and 52 RBIs. Coleman was also impressive, hitting .282 with nine homers and 42 RBIs.

Lee Fischer, Greg Folgia and Kurt Calvert must improve.

Starting pitching

With talented right-hander Aaron Crow leading the charge, the Tigers enter the spring with an exceptional weekend rotation.

Living up to the hype will be tough, but the Tigers have a dominant ace with Crow as the headliner.

The junior went 9-4 with a 3.59 ERA in 117 2/3 innings of work last season. He also struck out 90 and walked 33. Additionally, he threw a pair of complete games in 18 starts.

The Tigers are also pleased with junior left-hander Rick Zagone and sophomore right-hander Kyle Gibson.

Zagone went 7-2 with a 5.03 ERA in 102 innings of work last season. He also struck out 77 and walked 28. Additionally, he threw two complete games in 17 starts.

Gibson made 28 appearances and two starts last season. He went 8-3 with a 4.12 ERA in 67 2/3 innings of work. He also struck out 77 and walked 19.

Junior right-hander Ian Berger is another pitcher to watch. The veteran started nine games last season. However, his role this spring is still to be determined.

Bullpen

The Missouri bullpen still has some questions to answer, but most of them pertain to actual roles — not talent quality.

Kyle Gibson tallied seven saves last season. But with the right-hander moving from reliever to starter, the Tigers will look to Scooter Hicks and Ryan Allen to log more innings as closers.

Hicks notched six saves last season and had a 2.73 ERA in 26 1/3 innings of work. Meanwhile, Allen made 11 appearances and had a less than stellar 7.53 ERA in just 14 1/3 innings of work.

Freshmen Kelly Fick, Brad Buehler and Nick Tepesch will also have important roles while position player Greg Folgia will spend some time on the mound. Folgia made 26 appearances last season and had a 4.50 ERA in 60 innings of work.

Outlook with postseason forecast
The Missouri coaching staff has done an excellent job of putting the program on the national map. But now they must take the next step with a trip to the College World Series. Though it will be tough, the Tigers have the tools to go the distance. The offense must replace Evan Frey and Brock Bond but welcomes back several key contributors. Designated hitter Jacob Priday is primed for another productive campaign while Kyle Mach, Ryan Lollis and Aaron Senne hope to build off last season. The Tigers are also in good shape on the mound, where right-hander Aaron Crow and left-hander Rick Zagone lead the charge. Missouri has everything you want: a stable weekend rotation, deep bullpen and an experienced offense. If the Tigers play to their ability this spring, it will be another successful year in Columbia.

Shoes to Fill

Besides talented shortstop Gary Arndt the Tigers must also replace leading hitters Evan Frey and Brock Bond.

Frey finished up a fruitful career last season. The outfielder hit a team-leading .348 with four homers and 35 RBIs. He also ended the year 10-for-17 in stolen bases.

Bond also had an impressive campaign. The infielder hit .316 with a home run and 44 RBIs. He also ended the year 12-for-15 in stolen bases.

On a lesser note, the Tigers must also replace reliever Stephan Holst. The right-hander made 14 appearances last season and had a 4.72 ERA in 40 innings of work.

Must Step Up

If the Tigers want to get to Omaha, senior shortstop Lee Fischer and pitcher Kyle Gibson must rise to the occasion.

Fischer replaces Gary Arndt, who finished a productive career last season. In just 71 at bats in 2007, Fischer batted .169 with seven RBIs and four steals.

Though not on this list for a negative reason, Gibson must also elevate his game. The sophomore right-hander made 28 appearances but started just two games last season.

Missouri expects Gibson to be a weekend starter.

Impact Newcomer

Missouri enters the season with experience, but must receive significant contributions from its newcomers.

First baseman Steve Gray and pitchers Nick Tepesch, Kelly Fick and Brad Buehler highlight the list of newcomers.

Gray is a junior transfer from Scottsdale CC. According to coach Tim Jamieson the talented infielder is a power left-handed bat that adds quality depth to the middle of the lineup.

Tepesch would have the ability to start for many teams, but will be relegated to reliever or midweek starter.

Buehler has a power arm and could serve a variety of roles while Fick is a quality left-hander that adds depth to the pitching staff.

Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at rogersk@yahoo-inc.com.

Rivals.com is counting down our Preseason Top 25. Coming tomorrow: No. 11.



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