Arlington, TX - TCU Baseball is, somehow, both a veteran and an unproven team. That was on full display Saturday, as the Horned Frogs opened their 2021 season — a day later than planned — against #6 Ole Miss.
Both pitchers taught a masterclass in the first inning, as Doug Nikhazy of Mississippi and TCU’s Johnny Ray struck out the side — though Nikhazy had to work around a Hunter Wolfe double to do so.
Both pitchers absolutely fell apart in the second.
Ray walked the first batter he faced, hit the second, and walked the third. Then, with the bases loaded, Ben Van Cleve ripped a double to right, plating the first two runs of the game. Hayden Dunhurst followed with a single and Trey LeFleur’s double play ball put the Rebs on top 4-0 early.
The Frogs struck back though, as Austin Henry led off the second with what most in the ballpark thought was a home run, though it was confirmed to be a two-bagger on replay. Gray Rodgers drew a walk, and with two outs, freshman Luke Boyers hit a sharp grounder to short for an infield single that loaded the bases.
The next three Frogs would walk, each walking in a run, as freshman Elijah Nunez, Tommy Sacco, and Hunter Wolfe all took free bags. Nikhazy was replaced on the mound and Gene Wood struck out to end the inning, but we had a whole new ball game at 4-3 through two.
Haylen Green, who remains one of the best pitchers in college baseball that no one outside of Fort Worth talks about, came in and pitched a perfect top of the fourth, sending Ray to the bench after a tough first outing. The junior, who has Big League stuff, put up just 3.0 innings Saturday, allowing four earned runs on three hits with four strikeouts, three walks, a hit by pitch, and a wild pitch. Only 38 of his 68 pitches were strikes, which is not the way he wanted to start the season, but far too early to be all that concerned. Coach Schlossnagle reminded people that, while Ray is in his fourth year of college, he has only pitched in four collegiate games at the Division I level. “He expends a lot of energy in the first inning, he’s going to have to learn to control his emotions. You don’t want somebody to try less, but if you’re going to be a starting pitcher, you have to go more than three innings. Johnny is better than that — he’s going to have to show it, starting next week.”
After a couple of quiet innings for both teams, the Frogs had a great opportunity to tie things up — only to come up a few feet short of a huge play. Gene Wood opened the frame with a single through the right side, which forced a pitching change for Ole Miss. After Henry struck out, Gray Rodgers singled through the left side, and with two done, Conner Shepherd got into one — but hit it to dead center where it died just short of the wall.
After another 1-2-3 frame dealt by Green, the Frogs relied on their two freshmen starters to get the offense going in the bottom of the sixth. Luke Boyers led off the frame with a ground ball up the gut for a base hit, and Nunez moved him along by drawing a walk. Ole Miss went to the pen for the third time of the game, bringing in Taylor Broadway to face Tommy Sacco. Sacco bunted to move the runners over, and after Hunter Wolfe struck out, things got weird.
Gene Wood was sitting on a 2-2 count when he was hit by a pitch. After taking his base, the umpires called for a review — the fourth or fifth already on the day — ruling him out by the catcher, unassisted. I still can’t tell you exactly what happened, but it ended the inning and stranded two more runners, bringing the Frogs’ total in that category to eight on the day. Schlossnagle applauded the review, but had plenty to say about the rule itself. “That’s just part of baseball now, and I think it’s a good thing — you have a chance to get the calls right. The hit by pitch, it’s unfortunate. You can’t really blame the ump: their job is to enforce the rule. But the rule itself is an embarrassment to college baseball. No other level of baseball has that rule.” Schlossnagle reiterated that he had no issue with the rule being enforced, but went on to explain why the rule itself is so bad for the game. “The ball is in the batter’s box, it’s a bad pitch. You can’t reward a bad pitch. I don’t know what else Gene is supposed to do there.”
Things got worse in the seventh, as a single and an error set up the Rebels for two huge runs. Green exited with two outs and two on, making way for Drew Hill, who would not be charged for what happened next. Chatagnier hit a ball to right center that both Wolfe and Boyers were gunning for — and the true freshman didn’t peel off like he should have. That led to a big collision in the outfield, one after which Wolfe stayed down from for several minutes, and two more Ole Miss runs.
TCU went very quietly in the bottom of the frame, some of the energy sucked out of them after so many reviews, bad calls, and errors on their part. Drew Hill did his part to ensure the same happened in the top of the eighth, but the Frogs couldn’t take advantage of a lead-off hit once again, the inning ending scoreless when Tommy Sacco’s shot to right was caught at the wall. “I felt like we had our chances,” Schloss said. “We hit two balls to the fence — those could have changed the game.”
Ole Miss added a two out run in the ninth, as Drew Hill lost control after striking out the first two batters of the frame. Three straight base hits and an error on a pick off attempt made it a 7-3 ball game headed to the bottom of the ninth.
3:53 after it began, the game was over, and TCU Baseball was 0-1 on the year.
There are positives to take from the game: Haylen Green was great (3.2 IP, two hits, five strikeouts) and Drew Hill also looked (mostly) sharp in relief — he just stayed in a batter too long. Schlossnagle praised both of his reliever’s performances postgame, saying “Haylen and Drew were great.” Nunez was great defensively and looked sharp in the batter’s box, and both Shepherd and Sacco drove balls deep into the cavernous outfields of Globe Life Field. Schlossnagle said his two freshmen helf their own, even in front of what was estimated to be well over 100 scouts in attendance. Boyers was the only player to notch two hits on the day, and each player managed a two-out hit. Those are good signs for the future.
There are concerns as well: eight hits, 11 left on base, and two errors. Meanwhile, the Rebs capitalized on their opportunities. “The bottom line is, we gave up too many free bases. They got the big hits when they needed them — we are old but inexperienced.”
There’s no shame in losing to the #6 team in the country in your first ball game of the year, but Saturday’s result made it clear that this team has a lot of work to do between now and Big 12 play. That’s the beauty of this tournaments — you get thrown into the fire, identifying your weaknesses with an immediacy that demands attention. The Horned Frogs won’t get much time to regroup though, as they are set to face Mississippi State Sunday morning at 11:00am.