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Tuesday Morning Manager: Closing the book on #LuptonMagic

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TCU finished their home season on a strong note, dispatching the Mountaineers in a must-win series. But the really story is that of the three seniors that have played such important roles during their tenure as Frogs.

Connor Wanhanen, AJ Balta, and Michael Landestoy take a moment to reflect during Senior Day Sunday afternoon.
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Three TCU Baseball seniors left Lupton Field Sunday afternoon for the last time.

Each of the three had far different journeys that brought them to Fort Worth, and their experience as members of the TCU Baseball program could not have been more different. But they came together as the season progressed, leaving their mark on a program that has seen many great players come through its doors, and making us all proud to have them as life long members of the #FrogFam.

Michael Landestoy arrived in Funky Town first, as a scrawny freshman way back in 2013. The son of a pro ball player, Landestoy redshirted his first year on campus, and had just 160 total at-bats across the next three seasons - though he did collect 31 starts and played in 108 games overall. He had his share of big moments - his first career home run helped the Frogs hold off WVU in the Big 12 Championship game in 2016 and his work at first base made him the stuff of legend as a defensive replacement. #FreeLandestoy trended on twitter anytime a Frog first baseman made an error, as Mike’s ever-present smile, constant support of his teammates, and contagious energy quickly made him a fan favorite.

It wasn’t until his senior season that Landestoy earned a spot as a lineup regular; after batting just .213 through his first three years, Mike hit the cages hard in the off-season, and made it all but impossible for Schloss to keep him on the bench. Second on the team with a .316 average, Landestoy has an on base percentage of .413, two home runs, is 3-4 in stolen base attempts, and fielding at a perfect 100%. Though he has been primarily used as a DH, Michael has started 45 of 47 games heading into the Texas series. He has been huge for the Horned Frogs in 2018.

Connor Wanhanen arrived one year later than Landestoy, as a heralded high school recruit who had one championships at Flower Mound and batted .450 or better in his final two prep seasons. Known for his prolific hitting, Wanny made his bones as a true freshman at the plate, as he started 50 games that season at DH. His .329 average and 40 RBI were enough to get him named a Freshman All-American, and his dramatic home run to right field gave the Frogs the cushion they needed to oust Texas A&M in the the Supers.

It seemed as if that was just the beginning of something special for the Frog that teammates consistently chided for his perfectly coifed hair and Ken doll good looks, but the next two seasons would bring struggles for the quiet leader. Though he made 98 starts between his sophomore and junior seasons, his average fell off to .231 and .281, as he amassed just 39 RBI over the course of those two campaigns. But ever the hard worker and unselfish teammate, Wanhanen filled any role asked of him, taking over first in left field and then at first base as injuries depleted the program once again.

Though neither of these players is going to bounce off the page with stats or accolades, both represent everything that is good about college athletics. Both now graduates of TCU, Wanhanen has twice been a first team Academic All-Big 12 member, and Landestoy already has a summer internship lined up with the Pittsburgh Pirates as he works toward his goal of being part of an MLB front office. They were a part of three College World Series berths as active members of the team, won a Big 12 regular season title, a Big 12 Tournament title, hosted three Fort Worth Regionals and two Super Regionals.

The third and final senior is the shortest tenured, but had a huge impact of the program is his one year there. Unfortunately for AJ Balta, his season may be over, as a crash into the outfield fence could cost him the final series of the season, and maybe beyond.

Balta is a rarity in college baseball, a fifth year graduate transfer. When he arrived in Fort Worth, Schloss said that he couldn’t remember ever taking on such a player, but with a rash of graduations and early entries into pro ball, the Frogs had a leadership void to fill in addition to a myriad of holes in the field.

Much like Connor Wanhanen, Balta burst onto the scene as a freshman, with a solid first year campaign that got him noticed and named a Freshman All-American. But he, too, struggled over the next several seasons at Oregon, as injuries derailed his second year, though he bounced back by slugging nine long balls and had 47 RBI in 2016. After a disappointing year a season ago, where he hovered around the Mendoza Line and started just 35 games, Balta made a call to Schloss and explored the option of coming to TCU. The California native has been right at home ever since, batting .299, leading the team with 44 RBI, and slugging .471. Most impressive of all, he has just 30 strikeouts on the season, and his ability to consistently make contact has been a valuable weapon for the Horned Frogs in the heart of the order.

TCU is a bubble team at best as they head into their final conference series of the year, but regardless of what happens in Austin and OKC, each of these three men has gone out a winner. And should they get one last shot at the postseason, we can be sure they will give it their all, just as they have since they first put on the purple.

The Good:

TCU’s offense came alive over the weekend, continuing the hot hitting of last Sunday’s 11 run output against Lamar. In all, the Frogs outscored WVU 21-13 over three games, scoring eight runs in the finale off of just four hits. The lineup took advantage of the wildness of the Mountaineer pitching staff, who issued 24 free passes over the course of the three game set. Comparatively, TCU pitchers walked just seven WVU batters.

The Not Totally Sure:

After being so thoroughly dominant over the past two weeks, the TCU rotation looked decidedly human over the weekend, allowing nine runs on 13 hits across a pedestrian 13 innings of work. Nick Lodolo and Jake Eissler struck out 11 combined, while Haylen Green - in a purposely short effort - struck out none and walked one. But Sean Wymer made his return, and looked okay in his five innings of work, scattering six hits, allowing three runs, and fanning six. Charles King had an excellent weekend after struggling so mightily in a start against Texas Tech, pitching in back to back games and allowing just one hit in the process.

Even if both Feltman and Wymer elect to go pro as expected, TCU is loaded for the foreseeable future when it comes to the pitching staff. The brightest light in this dimmed season has been the emergence of the sophomore studs, and the excitement over a freshman group that might be even better down the line.

The Ugly:

Durbin Feltman has yet to throw a pitch in a game since being shelved with blister issues, and the return of the country’s best closer for this weekend’s series in Austin is in doubt. Additionally, the Frogs could be without their hottest bat and best outfield defender, as AJ Balta left the game after crashing into the outfield fence in right, hard. His return is questionable as well, and that means for both players, their TCU career could be over.