As Swayze pointed out in his series preview, experience comes first. And for this impossibly young TCU squad, it was a veteran presence on the mound that led them to a series win on the opening weekend of conference play.
While the Mountaineers proved pesky on Friday night, it was the the depth and strength of a TCU lineup that just flat out refuses to be put away that shined brightest on a sunny afternoon at Lupton. The only thing uglier than the WVU uniforms (some terrible combination of blue and yellow digital camo inexplicably paired with black cleats) was the infield defense - three errors (one each in the second, third, and fourth) kept fading Frog rallies alive while putting pressure on the guys in blue. Once again, it was the visiting team that struck first, working a run across in the top of the third with a leadoff double off of Brian Howard, followed by a wild pitch and a sacrifice. But the Fighting Frogs would punch a run of their own across in the bottom of the frame, and the Eers would not threaten again on the afternoon. Howard was typically brilliant: one run on two hits through seven innings, while surrendering only three walks against eight strikeouts. The seven innings is second only to the win in importance for a TCU bullpen that has been taxed of late with the starting pitching not being able to go deep into the game. If/when Traver returns, he will add depth to a starting staff that has been up and down, but it's Howard who is the rock of the group for this 2016 campaign.
Offensively, it was another light show for a lineup that Schloss has called potentially his best ever, as they outscored WVU 7-1 on the afternoon; while it lacked the long ball heroics of games past, it was relentless in working counts and finding gaps and pushing runs across in a variety of ways. The three run fourth was a perfect example of how this team finds ways to score - a Watson walk opened the frame, followed by a Barzilli single through the right side. Mason Hesse, starting at shortstop for Ryan Merrill, moved the runners on a sacrifice, and Dane Steinhagen intentionally walked behind him to load the bases with just a single out on the scoreboard. Though Landestoy struck out, it was almost a blessing in disguise as it put the runners in motion for Austen Wade, who singled home two runs and advanced Steinhagen to third. Dane would find the plate on a Mountaineer wild pitch, and while Skoug would go down on strikes to end the threat, the Frogs had all the cushion they would need for Howard.
Warner and Barzilli were the only Frogs with more than a single hit, but a balanced lineup saw all nine starters reach base safely and four guys collect RBIs. TCU did struggle a bit with the strike zone, with eight Ks against five walks, and also left eight runners on base. They were very active on the basepaths though, stealing five bags and forcing the WVU errors on poor throws trying to get them out. They also played much better on the defensive side of the field, going errorless and looking much more in sync after fumbling and bumbling their way to three errors in the series opener Friday.
TCU rises to 15-3 overall and 2-0 in conference play, while WVU falls to 10-6 and 0-2 in the Big XII. It will be the Rex Hill show tomorrow, as the JC transfer will look to improve on his poor showing against USC while going for the sweep of the Mountaineers. First pitch at Lupton is at 1pm on what is expected to be another sunny, though chilly, afternoon at Lupton.