The University of Missouri holds a special place in Alex Lange’s heart.
It’s the state where he grew up, graduating from Lee’s Summit West in 2014, but Lange’s connection runs deeper than that.
The Tigers also were the first team to offer him a scholarship after his freshman year of high school. He chose LSU instead.
“Missouri was always in the mix,” said Lange, a sophomore right-hander. “That first offer, you hold near and dear to your heart.”
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Not that it’s going to stop him from trying to gut Mizzou on Saturday at Taylor Stadium in Columbia, where he will toe the rubber opposite fellow sophomore phenom Tanner Houck at 2 p.m.
“Obviously, you’ve got to pitch your best game, because you know he’s going to bring his best,” Lange said. “Tanner is an excellent pitcher. He’s been excellent for Mizzou all year and last year as well.
“I’m just going to embrace the moment and enjoy being back in Missouri. I expect another hard-fought SEC series like every week. Everything about it is going to be a battle. I’m really looking forward to it.”
Lange’s mom, Renee, and dozens of family and friends are expected to pack the stands for one of the top pitching matchups of the season.
As a freshman, Lange earned All-America honors from Collegiate Baseball, Baseball America, the National College Baseball Writers Association and Perfect Game by going 12-0 with a 1.97 ERA.
He struck out 131 and walked 46 in 114 innings last season, permitting a miniscule .212 opponent batting average.
Lange dazzled in the College World Series, tossing a complete game as LSU staved off elimination with a 5-3 win against Cal State-Fullerton last June.
He’s had a bit rougher time duplicating that success as a sophomore.
Lange is 3-2 with a 4.74 ERA, including 62 strikeouts and 29 walks in 49 1/3 innings during eight starts this spring.
“Baseball happened,” said Lange, who said he’s healthy. “That’s the game of baseball. If you look across the board, you’re not going to have your best stuff every outing. You’re not going to pitch your best game every time out.”
Lange shrugs off questions that something’s been amiss.
“I haven’t always executed pitches when I should’ve, and that’s what happens,” he said. “It comes down to executing a few pitches here and there in the game, which I did last year.”
Lange’s fastball still sits in the mid-90s, touching 96 mph with a 12-to-6 spike curveball and a change-up that sits at 83-87 mph.
He’s working this season to better command his fastball, consistently throw his curve for strikes and locating his change-up down in the zone.
Fielding and holding runners by varying his hold time on the mound are also elements of pitching that Lange is working hard to refine, but he’s not focusing on his stats — except with respect to wins he can help LSU collect.
“After going 12-0 last year and coming into this year, I knew expectations would be high,” Lange said. “But playing at LSU, expectations are always high. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done as a freshman, sophomore or junior, it’s about what can you do for us now.”