TCU’s redshirt sophomore pitcher might be the Saturday night starter, but through his first three starts of 2021, it’s hard to argue that he’s not the ace of TCU Baseball’s staff.
He made his case once again Saturday night, striking out 13 batters in 6.0 innings against Texas State, as the Frogs rolled to a 10-0 victory in eight innings — their seventh straight win.
The Frogs struck first, scoring in the second inning as Conner Shepherd turned a one out hit by pitch into a run, with the help of a steal. They added two each in the fourth and fifth innings, with Phillip Sikes driving in two in the former and TCU getting more great work from their freshmen in the latter. Elijah Nunez led off the inning with a single up the middle, taking second when Luke Boyers connected for a base hit through the left side of the inning. Both runners advanced thanks to a balk, and Brayden Taylor’s groundout scored a run. Hunter Wolfe hit a sac fly one batter later to make it 5-0, and TCU had far more than they would need on the scoreboard.
Meanwhile, Russell Smith just kept slinging fire.
The lefty made a big impression on those that following the game most closely, mixing up his pitches and befuddling the Bobcats.
.@TCU_Baseball LHP Russell Smith has eight strikeouts through four innings. He’s done an excellent job, just as he did the first weekend, of mixing his pitches. CH is 83-84 and SL effective at 81-82. Still sitting 91-93 mph with his fastball. Very encouraged by his start.— Kendall Rogers (@KendallRogers) March 7, 2021
He struck out two in the first, one in the second, and three in the third, setting down batters swinging or looking in every inning he appeared, and multiple in five of the six frames he pitched and three in two of them. To put it lightly, he was dealing.
The Bobcats threatened just twice against Smith — getting a runner in scoring position in the third thanks to a lead-off single and an error, and again in the sixth with a single and a walk. But each time they made a move, Smith countered — usually with strikeouts. It was deflating for Texas State to say the least.
TCU added an insurance run with two outs in the six thanks to back to back doubles off the bats of Sikes and Tommy Sacco. River Ridings took over on the mound in the seventh, working around a two out walk to preserve the shutout. Hunter Wolfe would singularly add a run after the stretch, working a one out walk, stealing second, and scoring off of a pair of wild pitches.
After Dalton Brown made his season-debut with a pair of strikeouts in the top of the eighth, TCU would end things early, scoring three runs on four hits as four consecutive pinch hitters reached base safely following Brayden Taylor’s RBI triple.
Though the pitching was certainly the highlight of the night (three arms combining to strikeout 16 and the bullpen not allowing a hit), there were some impressive offensive performances as well. The three freshmen occupying the first three slots of the order combined for three hits, four runs scored, two RBI, and three walks, as youth continues to be served for TCU Baseball. Elijah Nunez continued his impressive start, drawing all three walks, and showcasing the approach at the plate that had Jim Schlossnagle comparing him to Matt Carpenter in the preseason.
.@TCU_Baseball freshman Elijah Nunez has special written all over him. He just has such mature at bats. He has two singles and a walk so far tonight. Just makes everything look very, very natural. #GoFrogs— Kendall Rogers (@KendallRogers) March 7, 2021
Phillip Sikes, who has been absolutely rolling since his inside the park home run, added two RBI on three hits, including two doubles, raising his average to .516 on the season. In all, TCU drew eight walks and absorbed two hit by pitches while striking out just five times. They finished with ten runs on 12 hits while leaving eight on base and committing a pair of errors.
The Frogs will look to sweep the Shriners’ Classic Sunday against Sam Houston, and continue their five game South Texas road trip with games at Texas State (Tuesday) and at UTSA (Wednesday) before hosting Gonzaga next weekend. Austin Krob is expected to get the start against the Bearkats Sunday afternoon, with first pitch set for 3:00pm.