Two hot baseball teams collide Thursday night in Austin.
Texas, ranked eighth in the USA Today coaches’ poll, hosts TCU for a three-game series at UFCU Disch-Falk Field beginning at 6 p.m. today with the Big 12 lead at stake.
The Longhorns (30-8, 9-3 Big 12) have won nine of their last 10. The Frogs (23-13, 7-5) have won eight of nine. Texas leads the Big 12, one game ahead of Oklahoma State and two games ahead of TCU.
The series matches the two best pitching staffs in the league. The Longhorns lead the Big 12 and rank fifth nationally with a 2.11 ERA. The Frogs have a 2.69 ERA and lead the league with 328 strikeouts. Texas’ staff is filled with finesse pitchers who are holding opponents to a .220 batting average. TCU is holding hitters to .229.
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Both teams are coming off disappointing seasons from a year ago when neither made the NCAA Tournament.
TCU’s offense has improved in the last couple weeks after coach Jim Schlossnagle made a few changes to the daily routine. He returned to a more hands-on style of coaching that has the Frogs staying more disciplined with their approach at the plate and playing more sound defense. Instead of allowing older players to keep teammates in check, he’s taken that out of the equation for the time being.
“Nothing too drastic,” he said after the Frogs’ 13-0 win Tuesday against Houston Baptist. “I just want the kids to play. I’m going to take that off their shoulders. It’s about discipline. Playing fundamental baseball and committing to who we are. Getting down a bunt when we have to get down a bunt. Playing solid defense. All the things we pride ourselves on.”
The results have been startling. Since the change, which came after a loss to Texas Tech on March 23, TCU is 10-3. The Frogs have collected 10 or more hits in seven of those games. Through their first 23 games the Frogs had just 11 games with 10 or more hits.
“The way we’ve stuck to the plan more, the plan they’ve given us offensively, defensively, from a pitching standpoint,” said Garrett Crain. “It really contributes to winning baseball. If we play good baseball then we’ll have a shot to win the series like we need to.”
The series looms larger for TCU from a ratings percentage index perspective. According to Boydsworld.com, a website that tracks RPI, the Frogs rank 37th. Texas ranks No. 2, so a series win in Austin could give TCU a big RPI bump. RPI helps determine which teams earn at-large bids to the 64-team NCAA Tournament.
“The beauty of being in a great league like this is we all feed off each others’ success,” Schlossnagle said. “Going down there and doing well will help us. But certainly if we don’t do well it won’t hurt you.”
Only in the league standings, of course, which help to seed the league’s postseason tournament. From a momentum standpoint, however, the series remains big for both teams, which met in the Super Regionals in 2009 and 2010.
“We’ll see what kind of team we are when we face them,” TCU outfielder Dylan Fitzgerald said. “Texas Tech had a down year [in 2013], too, and they came out strong this year. Texas obviously has a strong team, good pitching, good hitting now. We’re on a roll now, too, so it’ll be interesting to see.”