TCU closes out the regular season this weekend trying to keep its hold on the Mountain West Conference regular-season title and keep its positive momentum rolling right into the postseason.
The Horned Frogs begin a three-game series against San Diego State at Lupton Stadium on Friday night needing a sweep to win the MWC regular-season title. New Mexico (31-22, 16-6 in the MWC) won Game 1 22-4 with last-place Air Force Thursday to keep the pressure on TCU.
The Frogs (33-16, 16-5) can clinch their seventh consecutive and final MWC regular-season title with three wins this weekend. TCU moves into the Big 12 Conference next season.
A TCU loss to the Aztecs and a New Mexico sweep would give the Lobos the title and the No. 1 seed in next week's MWC tournament in Las Vegas. The tiebreaker edge goes to the Lobos, who would have a better record against San Diego State if the Frogs lose one this weekend. TCU took two of three at San Diego State in April.
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TCU has won 10 of its last 11 games and is 19-3 since April 5. The Frogs are playing their best baseball of the season as the postseason nears. The offense is scoring more runs and the pitching, especially the bullpen, has remained a consistent strength of the team.
But as in Tuesday's 1-0 win at Oklahoma, the pitching has often been left with little room for error. That's meant a lot of close games for TCU.
It can be a mental beating on the coaches and fans, but the players are getting a good dose of nail-biting experience that could prove invaluable in the postseason when games are often decided by a few plays.
"At least, when you get in close ones, you don't panic, and you know how to play them," TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle said. "It's a little hard on the coach but our players have done a good job."
TCU is 13-10 in games decided by two runs or less, including 9-7 in one-run games.
Andrew Mitchell (5-2) will start at 6:30 tonight against the Aztecs (23-30, 11-10). Left-hander Cole Swanson (0-1, 3.44 ERA) is listed as the Aztec's starter tonight.
San Diego State right-hander Justin Hepner (3-2), who allowed four runs in eight innings last week at Texas A&M, is likely to start a game for the Aztecs this weekend. He held the Frogs to one hit in 2 1/3 innings of relief in the Aztecs’ 5-3 win April 22 in San Diego. Hepner has a team-leading 2.53 ERA with seven saves in 46 1/3 innings.
Improvement to the Frogs’ offense has been gradual and not easy to detect, but it’s real. On April 26, the Frogs were batting .246. Entering this weekend series, they’re up to .259. That’s well below the .306 TCU batted last season and not even close to the .334 the Frogs hit in 2010, but it’s progress.