TCU catcher enjoying defensive turnaround since terse meeting with coach

Posted Monday, May. 20, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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More information Big 12 tournament (at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, Oklahoma City) Wednesday’s games Division I • 4. Oklahoma vs. 5. Baylor, 9 a.m. • 1. Kansas State vs. 8. Texas Tech, 12:30 p.m. Division II • 3. West Virginia vs. 6. Kansas, 4 p.m. • 2. Oklahoma State vs. 7. TCU, 7:30 p.m. Thursday’s schedule If TCU wins Wednesday, it plays Kansas/West Virginia winner, 7:30 p.m. If TCU loses Wednesday, it plays Kansas/West Virginia loser, 12:30 p.m. TV: Fox College Sports Radio: KTCU/88.7 FM (TCU game only)

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It was April 19 after a 3-2 loss to Baylor when catcher Kyle Bacak got an earful.

The first-year transfer from San Jacinto College had let the go-ahead run on base with a passed ball on a swinging strikeout to start the eighth inning.

It was Bacak’s 15th passed ball and the team’s 19th. It was a free 90 feet for the opponent, which through much of the first half of the season seemed to happen frequently against TCU. It was hardly just Bacak’s problem. TCU pitchers had thrown 40 wild pitches and hit 35 batters at that point, in effect giving teams free bases and often free runs with alarming regularity.

TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle didn’t lay all the blame at Bacak’s feet, but after the loss to Baylor, he made sure his first-year catcher knew something needed to change.

“It wasn’t a good meeting,” Bacak said of the brief one-minute meeting with Schlossnagle and the coaching staff. “There wasn’t much positive. They told me, ‘We need you to play at the level you’re capable of playing for us to go where we want to go.’”

The agonizing part for Bacak was that he had started playing better leading up to the passed ball against Baylor.

“They had been getting on me earlier in the year because I wasn’t playing that great,” Bacak said. “I had been playing better leading up to that game and then that happened, and it was the worst situation for it to happen. Finally I got to a point where I was like, you know, I got here for a reason.”

Since the meeting, Bacak hasn’t allowed a passed ball, and TCU pitchers have thrown only six wild pitches. The seventh-seeded Horned Frogs (28-26) open the Big 12 tournament against No. 2-seed Oklahoma State (39-14) at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark in Oklahoma City.

The early-season struggles rattled Bacak, who felt like he needed to prove himself after playing his freshman season at Houston before playing last year at San Jacinto. The day after the meeting with Schlossnagle, Bacak provided the game-winning hit in the 14th inning to beat Baylor.

“Mostly it was getting out of my own way really,” Bacak said. “I think I tried to do too much, and of course, coaches always get on you when stuff isn’t going right.”

Bacak hasn’t only been more reliable behind the plate but also at the plate as well. He leads the team in Big 12 play with a .315 batting average and is second with a .386 on-base percentage. More than half of his 11 RBIs have come in the last 15 games. He’s become one of the team’s most reliable bunters, and he drove in the winning run last week in the eighth inning against UT Arlington with a perfect bunt on a squeeze play.

“I felt relaxed early in the beginning of the season and just felt like everything that could go wrong did,” Bacak said.

Schlossnagle downplayed the meeting with Bacak as a turning point. “It’s not like I hadn’t said anything to him before, so it’s completely to his credit,” he said.

Schlossnagle was dumbfounded by Bacak’s struggles. Before the season, he compared Bacak’s defensive skills with former TCU All-American catcher Bryan Holaday. He’d seen hitting and pitching slumps — and even fielding slumps for infielders — but never a catching slump.

“We had some things that I’ve never have happen on any team happen time and time again,” he said. “It’s not just the passed balls and the wild pitches, it’s the stolen bases against us.”

Teams have stolen 45 bases in 72 attempts against TCU. Bacak was even called for catcher’s interference during a game. In Friday’s win against Texas, he threw out a runner trying to steal second.

“You’d like to say he finally bought in to the fundamentals of who he is,” Schlossnagle said. “[The runner] got a great jump and he still threw him out. That’s what we saw when we recruited him and all fall. That’s why I’m so excited about it, kind of like the rest of the team. For whatever reason, it’s just taken this long to take shape.”

Stefan Stevenson 817-390-7760 Twitter: @FollowtheFrogs

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