Austen Wade’s headfirst attitude provides spark at top of TCU lineup

TCU leadoff hitter Austen Wade is not saying diving into first base is a good idea.

He knows what can happen to your hands.

But last week, in the 11th inning of a scoreless game at Kansas State, trying to beat a ground ball to first base, he kept thinking somebody needed to make something happen.

So he dove.

“Probably a really dumb decision on my part,” he said. “But from my perspective, it was a hustle play. That possibly put a little spark in our dugout.”

It for sure left a bloody gash in Wade’s hand, via the shoe of pitcher Jordan Floyd, and it put him out for the next game. But the dive worked. Wade reached base with the infield single, starting a five-run inning that sent TCU on the way to a Game 1 victory and a series sweep of the Big 12 opponent.

Good work. Don’t do it again.

“Definitely got worried there,” coach Jim Schlossnagle said. “Thought it was going to be worse.”

Schlossnagle was right to fret. Seven weeks in, Wade leads the Horned Frogs in hitting, at .311, heading into a non-conference series against Murray State starting on Friday at Lupton Stadium.

He has reached base in 16 consecutive games, has batted .419 during the Frogs’ nine-game win streak and has a first-inning on-base percentage of .407.

Wade went for X-rays on the hand after the game, and they came back with good news. Nothing broken.

But he got Schlossnagle’s message.

“I understand him being cautious and saying don’t ever do that again,” Wade said. “But I know for a fact we’ve got guys that can have an impact instantly, whether it’s off the bench, the bullpen, the infield, the outfield. We for sure have depth.”

Still, the TCU lineup is at its best with Wade in it. The left-handed hitting junior from Midland tied the TCU record for walks in a season last year (57 by Matt Curry in 2010), and he has 22 through 28 games this season, a tick off his pace of a year ago. For his career, he has 88 walks to 67 strikeouts in 102 games.

“Ever since he’s been on campus, he’s had a good awareness of the strike zone,” Schlossnagle said. “His freshman year, in the little bit he played, he had nine walks and three strikeouts. He knows a ball from a strike.”

Fourteen months ago, it would have been hard to predict the value Wade has provided. He was far down on the depth chart until two other outfielders, Nolan Brown and Evan Williams, were sidelined for the year by injuries.

Two weeks into that season, Wade took advantage of an open spot in right field and was in the lineup to stay. He became the leadoff hitter in place of Brown and hit .286 with a .434 on-base percentage for a College World Series qualifier.

Now he has played in more than 100 games for TCU, been part of two CWS teams, and is responsible for setting the tone at the plate for the third-ranked team in the country.

“Rather than just saying I really want to hit .420 this year and have as many doubles as I can, well, I’d rather score every possible run I can in every opportunity that I have to get on base,” he said. “If that means taking a walk or having a 10-pitch at-bat that might result in a groundout, every guy in our dugout understands we’re not going to be an easy out. That’s basically my role as a leadoff batter. I want to set the tempo.”

He’s certainly dived right in.

Carlos Mendez: 817-390-7760, @calexmendez

No. 3 TCU vs. Murray State

6:30 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday

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