Consistent lineup benefited TCU during season-ending surge

05/20/2014 3:21 PM

11/12/2014 5:34 PM

For the last month and a half, TCU players haven’t needed to check the lineup card before games. They know where they’re playing. They know where they fall in the lineup.

Since early April, the same eight starters have played the field and usually hit in the same spot in the batting order. That consistency proved beneficial as the 19th-ranked Horned Frogs finished the season winning 23 of their last 26 games.

For the last month, Kevin Cron has been the everyday first baseman, and Jerrick Suiter has been the designated hitter. They’ve combined to drive in 54 runs, a marked improvement from last year, when they combined for 30 RBIs.

Both are swinging hot bats as the Big 12 tournament begins Wednesday in Oklahoma City. The No. 2-seeded Frogs (38-15) open against seventh-seed Baylor (24-29) at 12:30 p.m. at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark.

TCU right-hander Jordan Kipper (7-2) will start against Baylor right-hander Drew Tolson (3-5). Kipper has been the Frogs’ usual Tuesday night starter this season. He was last used out of the bullpen Thursday against Baylor and pitched well.

The TCU-Baylor winner advances to play the winner between Kansas and West Virginia at 4 p.m. Thursday. The tournament is double-elimination.

“The very best teams I’ve ever been a part of in coaching, that’s what you had — where there are days when you don’t even have to check the lineup card because you know where you’re playing and you know where you’re batting,” TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle said. “We have that, and also, the guys that aren’t playing understand it and they know their role.”

For TCU’s sluggers, especially Suiter of late, seeing the ball well hasn’t necessarily equated to a lot of hits, but it bodes well for him and the team in the postseason that some of his screaming liners might start falling in.

“It’s just baseball,” said Suiter, who had a similar run of bad luck to start the season a year ago. “I’d love a couple hits a game in the conference tournament. I’m just going to keep my approach and keep playing ball.”

The Frogs also are getting big contributions from Keaton Jones and Kyle Bacak at the bottom of the order.

“Those guys are all playing a big role in the offense,” Schlossnagle said. “They know their job is to get on base, advance runners. They’ve really worked hard with [hitting] coach [Bill] Mosiello.”

Second baseman Garrett Crain’s return to the lineup on April 4 after missing time with an injured shoulder coincided with the team’s 23-3 finish. He’s started the last 25 games and is second on the team with a .336 batting average.

“After the first half of the season, we weren’t ourselves and we woke up and got on fire,” pitcher Preston Morrison said of the team’s 15-12 overall record after losing at top-seeded Oklahoma State on March 30. “We’ve kind of woken up again after getting away from who we are and what we do, so I think we are in the right state of mind.”

A look at the field by seed

1. Oklahoma State (41-14): The 8th-ranked Cowboys had won 12 in a row before losing the regular-season finale against Oklahoma.

2. TCU (38-15): The No. 19 Horned Frogs won 23 of their last 26 and lead the league in conference-only games with a .291 batting average and trail only OSU with a 2.54 ERA.

3. Kansas (34-22): The Jayhawks won five of eight league series and swept their final three Big 12 series against Baylor, Texas Tech and West Virginia.

4. Texas Tech (40-16): The Red Raiders lead Big 12 teams in overall batting average (.294), runs (360) and extra-base hits (162). The next closest team in extra-base hits is Oklahoma with 145.

5. Texas (36-16): The Longhorns scuffled down the stretch, going 6-8 since April 17. But Texas still has the pitching to shut down most teams, which was evident by a combined no-hitter thrown by Dillon Peters and Morgan Cooper over the weekend.

6. West Virginia (27-24): After going 11-2 from April 15 to May 6, the Mountaineers finished the regular season with seven consecutive losses and may need to win the tournament to earn a postseason berth.

7. Baylor (24-29): The Bears are last in the conference in batting average (.218) and runs (71) and lead the Big 12 with 155 strikeouts in league-only games. Baylor needs to win the tournament to return to the postseason.

8. Oklahoma (28-27): The Sooners, who reached the Super Regionals after winning the Big 12 tournament a year ago, are a dangerous bottom seed with freshman Sheldon Neuse, sophomores Hunter Haley and Craig Aikin, and junior Mac James among the leaders in most offensive categories.

Big 12 tournament

(at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, Oklahoma City)

Wednesday’s first-round games:

• No. 3 Kansas vs. No. 6 West Virginia, 9 a.m.
• No. 2 TCU vs. No. 7 Baylor, 12:30 p.m.
• No. 1 Oklahoma St. vs. No. 8 Oklahoma, 4 p.m.
• No. 4 Texas Tech vs. No. 5 Texas, 7:30 p.m.

TV: FSSW, Fox College Sports; Radio: KTCU/88.7 FM

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