I don't know about you, but I am starting to get the feeling that this Luken Baker fellow might be pretty good at baseball. The freshman - can we call him a sensation already? - controlled the game in all aspects, baffling Rice hitters to the tune of seven strikeouts over the course of six innings of shutout ball, and hitting a home run literally out of the ball park and onto the train tracks, along with playing solid defense from the mound since that seemed about as far as most of the opponents could hit his fast ball.
But it wasn't all Baker on a Saturday under the lights, the rest of the Frog offense was pretty salty themselves, led by the impossibly on fire Elliot Barzilli and the equally dazzling Dane Steinhagen. Barz, who is so good at the plate right now that it seems opponents would almost prefer to concede first base rather than challenge him at the plate, and yet - thankfully - they continue to do just that. And he continues to make them pay for it. After getting plunked in the head - hard enough that it knocked his helmet straight off - in his first at bat on the evening, Barzilli got his revenge in the best possible way, by following Baker's bomb with a shot of his own to the left field seats. He would finish two for three on the evening with three RBIs and two runs scored, all from the sixth spot in the lineup. I don't want to say this is unexpected, but I don't think anyone would have predicted he would be this good, this early, for a TCU lineup littered with contact hitters and real power. Steinhagen and Cam Warner knocked in a pair of runs apiece, and Warner scored two as well. It was a balanced and effective attack from a TCU lineup that seems to not have many holes, getting production from the leadoff man (Wanhanen until Nolan Brown returns to full health) through the number nine hitter (Austen Wade) and is relying on two true freshman in Baker and the uber talented Josh Watson to come through in the clutch - which they have done time and time again. And in a game where the two consistent bats of 2015 (Skoug and Wanhanen) comparatively struggled, the Frogs pushed ten runs across with relative ease mostly against a pair of really good pitchers from Rice.
Saturday's game was an interesting one, as TCU managed to score in a variety of ways - the long ball, great base running that kept pressure on a Rice defense that was rattled early, and timely hitting - and did most of the damage with two outs. In the second inning, where Schloss' squad broke things open by putting five across the plate with two down, it was Austen Wade's walk that turned the tables and turned a three run lead into an onslaught, as he kept things alive for Wanny and Warner who hit back to back singles to run the score up to 5-0.
TCU would follow with three more runs in the third, using the big bats of Baker and Barzilli, and add a single run in both the fourth and the six with more of a small ball attack and through their aggressive play and head's up base running. In the sixth, it was a Cam Warner walk, followed by a steal, followed by an error that allowed Skoug to reach base and Cam to scoot across the plate. This is such a dangerous team because they can hurt you in some many different ways in the box and on the bases.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the diamond, Baker showed poise beyond his years as he worked out of the few trouble spots he encountered with a nasty fastball and a sense for the moment. In the fourth, he would surrender a lead off single followed by a double that was an absolute rocket to the wall, and would be in a two on, one out situation with runners at second and third. But, as we have seen, the young man is not human, and he worked his way out of trouble with a strikeout and by inducing a grounder to first. Rice would threaten again in the fifth with a pair of singles, but Baker worked his magic again, and a pop up to short center ended the inning.
TCU's young pitcher would collect two more strikeouts in the top of the sixth, his sixth and seventh on the evening, and exit the game at the point having surrendered zero runs on five hits to extend his career opening shutout streak to 12 innings. Drew Gooch would finish things off for the Frogs, who would mercy rule the Owls after seventh due to their 10-0 lead.
The Frogs will be back in action tomorrow to face Houston at 2:30pm. The Cougars are 0-2 on the weekend, as they lost a heartbreaker to Texas Tech Friday before being bludgeoned by Arkansas Saturday to the tune of 12-3. Rex Hill will take the mound for TCU, who will look for their third win of the weekend, in their first significant test of the season. With a 15-3 scoring advantage through two, there are a lot of positives to take from the first two games of the Shriner's College Classic, but a sweep would certainly send a message to the Big XII, and the country, that TCU Baseball doesn't rebuild, they reload.