One major concern for Missouri’s baseball program was conquered Friday night against Florida.

The Tigers’ worries about filling Taylor Stadium’s seats with graduation taking place at nearby Mizzou Arena paid off as they played the second contest of their three-game, regular season ending series against the Gators in front of a regular season record 3,182 fans — 36 more than they achieved with the old record against Vanderbilt last year.

However, the largest non-NCAA Tournament crowd in Missouri baseball history didn’t get to see a game with a ton of fireworks and extra-base hits (the game had three total).

Those spectators squeezed into the Tigers’ venue to see a pitcher’s duel between Florida’s Jack Leftwich and Missouri’s TJ Sikkema.

“With the amount of fans we had, it was amazing,” Sikkema said. “The atmosphere was great. I think I really fed off of that.”

Leftwich, who won three elimination games for the Gators in last season’s Southeastern Conference and NCAA Tournaments, returned to playoff form and gave up two hits to quiet the Tigers and lift his team to a 2-0 win.

The win clinches the series for Florida and is the 11th straight win over Missouri. First pitch for the series finale is slated for 11 a.m. Saturday.

Both of the game’s runs came off one pitch in the top of the fourth inning. The first runner to reach base in the game did so to kick off that frame because of a Paul Gomez fielding error.

Then, Florida’s Austin Langworthy stepped into the batter’s box. Sikkema battled him to a 3-2 count with neither competitor giving an inch.

Sikkema tried to use the corners of the strike zone to get by the left fielder. Langworthy rocketed a changeup down the right field line but foul earlier in the at-bat.

So, when Sikkema threw an off-speed pitch over the plate again, Langworthy made no mistake and drove a missile over the right field wall for a 2-run home run.

Langworthy’s home run ended Sikkema’s 10-inning streak without giving up a hit at home. He didn’t allow a hit in seven innings of work in his last home outing against South Carolina.

Sikkema didn’t allow another extra-base hit in the game. He only allowed two hits the rest of his complete game.

“I wouldn't even call it a bad pitch ... (Sikkema) doesn’t want to walk a guy and go to their 3-hole hitter there,” Missouri head coach Steve Bieser said about the home run. “He had to throw a strike, he threw a 3-2 breaking ball in the zone and (Langworthy) was pretty much waiting on it.

“TJ was outstanding. That’s what you look for in your ace and I think he did everything and gave us everything he had all game long ... he couldn’t have done any more for his team.”

Missouri’s best chance to cut into Florida’s lead was in the sixth inning with runners on first and second with no outs.

A Josh Holt Jr. sacrifice bunt moved the runners to second and third. The poorly executed bunt that followed easily stranded a runner on the way to home plate and took the life out of the Tigers’ chance to score.

“Small ball is our game. We got to be better at executing. It’s something we work on,” Bieser said. “I wasn’t just looking for a squeeze bunt. There was a bunt base-hit sitting there if we execute. You could tell early in this game that it was going to be a low scoring affair. Even if we got only one run out of that inning then it comes even harder for their starter to finish that game in the eighth and ninth innings with only a one-run cushion.”

Peter Zimmerman also doubled with Missouri (34-20-1 overall, 13-15-1 SEC) down to its final out, but Chad McDaniel struck out to end the game.

The two losses to Florida this week lessens the Tigers’ chances of hosting an NCAA regional, but that feat isn’t impossible.

Missouri has one more guaranteed chance to break the all-time attendance record, which was set during the 2007 NCAA Tournament, and to impress this year’s tournament selection committee against the Gators.

eblum@columbiatribune.com

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