TCU perfecting art of small ball on its way to Omaha

06/11/2014 8:20 PM

11/12/2014 6:04 PM

In the biggest at-bat of his season, TCU catcher Kyle Bacak squared to bunt with two runners on and an out in the ninth inning of a tie game Monday against Pepperdine. But it shouldn’t have come as much of a shock that the Horned Frogs went for — and succeeded — with the suicide squeeze.

TCU has fine-tuned the art of small ball this season on its way to a berth in the College World Series. The Frogs have stolen 89 bases, more than double last year’s total of 38, while laying down 60 sacrifice bunts.

A pitching staff with a 2.19 ERA lends itself to manufacturing runs on offense. TCU certainly doesn’t need a flurry of runs often. But the park in which TCU plays also dictates what the Frogs can and can’t do.

The fences at Lupton Stadium were moved in about 10 feet before last season, but with batters usually facing a stiff south wind the field still favors pitchers; sometimes, a few runs is enough.

“Offensively, our whole mindset is to just scrap and get whatever runs we can for our incredible pitching staff,” Bacak said before TCU’s practice Wednesday. “We feel like if we get three runs, it’ll be hard for someone to get four on us.”

TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle said Omaha’s TD Ameritrade Park produces a similar, pitcher-friendly setting at 335 feet in left field, 335 in right and 408 in center.

“It’s going to be hard to score guys in [TD] Ameritrade Park from second base with one out, because it’s such a big place,” TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle said. “The ball doesn’t carry and the outfielders play so shallow.”

Juniors form ‘core’

TCU’s last deep postseason run was in 2012, when the Horned Frogs won the College Station Regional and advanced to the super regionals at UCLA. It was a quick exit, though, as TCU dropped the first two games, 6-2 and 4-1.

But during that series, Kevin Cron, Derek Odell, Jerrick Suiter, Keaton Jones, Brandon Finnegan and Preston Morrison each earned starts as freshmen.

Cron said he and his junior classmates earned valuable experience in 2012, even if they fell short of Omaha.

“As freshmen, we wanted to rise to the occasion,” Cron said. “We knew we were going to have a pivotal role. And obviously with six starters in the super regional that freshman year, we had all been there before and it gave us some confidence going forward.”

Schlossnagle called his juniors the team’s “core,” in particular Odell, Cron and Suiter, who hit 2nd, 4th and 6th in the batting order.

“Any time you’re a private school with a high cost of attendance, and limited scholarships, your core guys are your core guys,” Schlossnagle said. “They’re playing better this year and that’s why we’re having more success.”

Close to a decision

Schlossnagle said he hasn’t decided who will pitch for TCU in the first two games. Win or lose Sunday, the Frogs’ next game will be Tuesday. Getting through the first two games is crucial to protecting pitching depth, Schlossnagle said.

“If you win the first game, you’re going to do every single thing you can to win the second game, no matter who it takes,” he said. “Because if you stay in the winner’s bracket then the depth of your pitching never really gets tested.”

Leaving for Omaha

TCU will head for Omaha on Thursday morning, leaving Lot 2 on campus for the airport at 7:30 a.m. A send-off party is planned.

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