#3 TCU Horned Frogs (2-1) vs University of Texas Arlington (1-2) | Location: Lupton Field - Fort Worth, TX | Series: 101-58-1 (TCU)
Tuesday Feb. 20th | 6:30 p.m. | FSSW | 88.7 KTCU | Russell Smith (0-0) vs. Daniel James (0-0)
The Horned Frogs return to Fort Worth for their first home game of 2018, welcoming in the Mavericks for the continuation of a series that has been played annually since 1969 (nice). TCU is coming off of a 2-1 series win against the Grand Canyon Antelopes, which saw them author two stunning comebacks, one in the ninth inning Friday that resulted in a win, and another Sunday that fell short.
TCU hit the cover off the ball in their opening series, with six players hitting .300 or better, led by catcher Zach Humphreys and short stop Adam Oviedo - both at .385 for the series. The Frogs mashed two home runs, six doubles, and two triples, striking out 26 times and walking 21.
UTA, for their part, lost two of three at Corpus Christi, sandwiching a victory Saturday between Friday and Sunday’s Ls. After their opening series, UTA is hitting .245 as a team with four doubles and three triples. Junior outfielder Phil Berthiaume led the team with a .500 average, hitting a double and driving in four runs.
The Mavs struggled from the bump, with an ERA of 4.67 as a unit. They had just 14 strikeouts and walked seven, while Frog pitchers had 35 Ks and just nine walks on their way to a 3.64 ERA.
TCU will turn to true freshman Russell Smith, a 6’9”, 250 pound lefty who was rated the as the 39th best prospect in the state after his senior season. Smith may remind you of former Frog pitcher Brian Howard in height, but the former Midlothian flame thrower comes in much more polished than Howie was when he first stepped foot on campus. He also has the advantage of throwing to his friend and former teammate Zach Humphreys, which should give him a level of comfort in his first career collegiate start. With four pitches, including a fastball that he can run up into the mid-90’s, the future is bright for the young star.
Russell will face off with an experienced veteran in James, a senior who will also be making his first start. But James had 21 appearances a year ago, going 0-3 with a 3.81 ERA in 28.1 innings. James had 23 Ks against just seven walks, and the righty turned his impressive year into a nomination to the “Stopper of the Year” watch list heading into 2018. He threw four innings in the Mavs season-opening series, allowing four runs on four hits while striking out five.
Keys to the Game
- Error Free Baseball
TCU had a disastrous 12th inning against GCU Sunday, committing two costly errors that allowed the Lopes to score three runs. In all, the Frogs committed five errors over their first three games, a sloppy effort for a team used to playing clean ball. But, when you have almost an entirely new infield, mistakes are bound to happen. True freshmen Adam Oviedo and Coby Boulware looked at times unflappable and at times... well, like freshmen... but getting the opening weekend jitters out of their system ought to help things. Conner Shepherd was shaky at third, but again, he is getting his first taste of DI ball and was lauded for his steadiness coming out of fall camp. Clean up the defense, and the Frogs will be just fine.
- Patience at the Plate
James is a strikeout pitcher, and the Frogs did a lot of swinging and missing over the weekend - especially Friday night against superstar Jake Wong. The Frogs made their most hay on offense when they drew walks, and getting deep in the count will get them deep into a UTA pen that doesn’t have the depth to compete against a talented TCU lineup. The Frogs were uber aggressive on the base paths over the weekend, and when you draw free passes, that frees you up to be more aggressive in the run game.
- Get the New Guys Involved
Getting Smith off and running is the biggest key of this category, of course, but TCU also needs to get several new lineup regulars assimilated to Big 12 baseball. New starters were just 13-58 in the opening series, with centerfielder Johnny Rizer going 0-4 and Shepherd just 1-12. Thankfully, Wanhanen, Watson, Baker, and Humphreys had big weekends in their return, and freshman Oviedo is tied for the team lead with five hits including a double.
The Frogs should bounce back from their first loss of the year behind Smith, who has plenty of expectation on his shoulders. But with plenty of bullpen excellence behind him (I imagine Eissler and King will get some innings Tuesday as well), he doesn’t need to get the win on his own. Expect the bats to stay hot, with a big game from Luken Baker in a 5-2 TCU win.
More Notes From Go Frogs:
• TCU held on to its top-10 ranking across all poll after opening the season with a series victory at Grand Canyon.
• TCU has been in the top 10 of the rankings since June 6, 2016.
• TCU twice rallied back from multiple-run deficit over the weekend, posting a 1-1 record in those games.
• Ten Horned Frogs made their debut over the weekend, including five in the starting lineup.
• TCU scored multiple runs in an inning six times over the weekend.
• The TCU pitching staff registered double-digit strikeouts in two of the three games.
• TCU registered 10 extra base hits over the weekend, including three from Josh Watson.
• Luken Baker stretched his streak of reaching base safely to 31 games dating back to last season.
• Baker hit his 20th career home run on Sunday.
• Connor Wanhanen has reached base safely in nine straight games dating back to last year.
UT ARLINGTON NOTABLES
• UT Arlington opened the season with a series loss against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.
• The tightly-contested series saw both teams score 14 runs combined over the weekend.
• Tuesday’s game marks the start of a four-game road trip for UT Arlington.
• As a team, the Mavericks hit .245 with seven extra base hits.
• Phil Berthiaume (.500) and R.J. Williams (.417) are off to hot starts at the plate.
• Omar Salinas led the team with four RBIs.• On the mound, the Mavericks used 11 pitchers and posted a combined ERA of 4.67.
• The staff issued just seven walks and fanned 14.
• Defensively, the Mavericks committed just three errors, but didn’t allow an unearned run.
• The Mavericks surrendered two stolen bases on three attempts.
• The Horned Frogs and the Mavericks will be meeting for the 162nd time on Tuesday.
• TCU holds a 101-58-1 edge in the all-time series.
• TCU has won three straight dating back to 2017.
• Tuesday is the first of three meetings between the two teams in 2018. TCU will host two of the games.
• TCU won all three meetings last season, 7-2 (Feb. 21), 5-4 at UTA (April 4) and 6-1 (May 16).
• Since 2004, the Frogs are 27-7 against UTA.
• UT Arlington is 5-16 all-time at Lupton Stadium.
• TCU and UT Arlington have played every season since 1969.
• TCU will play 31 games at home this season.
• TCU went 28-4 at home last season.
• Under the guidance of Jim Schlossnagle, TCU is 338-106 in games played at Lupton Stadium.
• TCU is 113-23 at home over the last three-plus seasons.
• TCU ranked 10th nationally in average attendance this year with an average of 4,785.