When North Carolina State hurt TCU last weekend, it was usually in one of two ways: Fanning the Frogs’ batters or hitting the ball out of the ballpark.
Chance Shepard’s two-run homer lifted the Wolfpack to a 5-4 win over TCU last Saturday, and in Monday’s regional championship, TCU struck out 11 times in the first seven innings, as N.C. State climbed to an 8-1 lead.
TCU mounted a seven-run comeback, won in extra innings and advanced to host Texas A&M in the NCAA Super Regional, a best-of-three series that begins at 2 p.m. Saturday.
But as the Aggies enter Lupton Stadium, they’ll bring with them a set of similar trademarks to what N.C. State featured: Power hitting and power pitching.
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In 61 games this year, A&M has hit 68 home runs, led by 10 each from Ryne Birk and Logan Taylor. The Aggies are slugging .466 as a team, with 183 total extra-base hits, and they have a team average of .305.
Their pitchers, meanwhile, have struck out 546 batters in 548 2/3 innings. Right-hander Grayson Long has 104 strikeouts in 92 2/3 innings. Seven other A&M pitchers average one or more strikeouts per inning.
The power of A&M’s lineup might be limited by Lupton Stadium, where a slight wind circled as the Aggies took batting practice Friday afternoon. Shortstop Blake Allemand, who has seven homers this year, admitted “it was a little harder than most ballparks” to get one out.
But TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle knows the spacious stadium’s conditions might not matter if his pitchers miss their spots.
“A&M’s park plays a little different than ours, but we know how physical they are,” Schlossnagle said. “What they do is punish mistakes. That’s why a guy with command like Tyler [Alexander], if he’s on, will give us a chance, and we know what Preston [Morrison] can do. But if you miss in the middle of the plate, or you pitch behind in the count, they’ll make you pay, no matter what the wind is doing.”
A&M’s plan is to work the ball back up the middle.
“You better have a flat approach up there,” Texas A&M coach Rob Childress said. “If you’re up there hunting the home run, it’s going to be a long weekend for you, especially against TCU’s arms. Opportunities are going to be few and far between, and when you get your opportunities, you have to cash in. And you’re going to have to cash in with a great approach.”
But while the Aggies are bracing for a challenge against TCU’s pitchers, the Frogs’ hitters will have a few, too.
A&M will start Long (9-0, 2.53 ERA) on Saturday and Matt Kent (9-1, 2.99) on Sunday. Kent, who earned most outstanding player at the College Station Regional, gave up one earned run in 14 innings last weekend, and struck out 14.
Long can be particularly electric — against Alabama on March 20, he struck out 14 in six innings. Schlossnagle is willing to let Long and the Aggies rack up a few more strikeouts this weekend at the cost of a taking a good approach. Being patient might have led to some inflated whiff numbers last weekend when TCU struck out 34 times in three games against N.C. State.
“We don’t swing early in the count very much,” he said. “Our guys are free to do that, but we’re not afraid to hit with two strikes. We could easily reduce the strikeouts by swinging early in the count at bad pitches. But your goal is not to strike out the least. Your goal is to play good offensive baseball.”
▪ Allemand has played 228 games for the Aggies, fifth best all time at A&M.
▪ A&M reliever Ty Schlottmann is a distant cousin of TCU offensive lineman Austin Schlottmann. Both are from Brenham.
▪ A&M recruited TCU closer Riley Ferrell, a College Station native whose mother works at A&M. Ferrell also said his stepfather’s sister works for the school’s 12th Man Foundation.
▪ A&M has won 12 of the past 16 meetings against TCU, but lost to the Frogs in the 2012 College Station Regional.
▪ A&M’s 68 home runs are up from 25 last year.
▪ If A&M wins Saturday, it might be wearing black uniforms Sunday. The Aggies added a new black uniform to its rotation this year that’s been reserved for when they have a chance to sweep a series.
Ryan Osborne, 817-390-7760