Friday Houston College Classic Notebook
More Houston College Classic Coverage
HOUSTON — When you think of TCU, you think of pitching, but the Horned Frogs aren’t coming off back-to-back trips to Omaha just by winning 2-1 every night–even though six of the eight Frogs drafted last year were pitchers, it takes a core of at least solid position players for any team to win 51 games.
Among those position players was junior outfielder Dane Steinhagen, a transfer from Howard (Texas) College who hit .289/.346/.353 in his first season at TCU. This year, instead of being a newcomer, Steinhagen has taken on a leadership role as one of only four seniors on the TCU roster, and serving as that bridge from the College World Series teams to the next generation was a specific focus.
“We worked on it all offseason,” Steinhagen said. “We’ve got a lot of new guys on here, so it’s a lot of coaching, a lot of teaching, so I just try to help out as much with the younger guys here so that when I leave, they know what to do from here on out.”
On Friday night, Steinhagen, starting in center field and hitting eighth, led from the front. He singled off Louisiana-Lafayette lefthander Gunner Leger to lead off the third and came around to score the team’s first run, then smoked a double to left center and scored the eventual game-winning run when he led off the fifth.
“He was mixing fastball-changeup against me,” Steinhagen said. “Changeup down and away, same thing with his fastball, but I just tried to spit on the changeup down and away, and luckily I was able to get on that fastball.”
Steinhagen followed all this up with a scalded two-run home run with two outs in the eighth inning. The ball cleared the yellow line above the visitors’ bullpen but hit the railing above it and caromed back onto the field of play, leaving Steinhagen momentarily stranded at second base as umpires and players from both teams looked around, wondering if the ball had gone over the line.
“I saw it when I hit that railing up there, and I was like, ‘Maybe I saw something wrong,’ but I was pretty sure, confident I hit it up there,” Steinhagen said.
Sure enough, Steinhagen was eventually waved home, bringing his total contribution for the day to 3-for-4 with seven total bases and three runs scored.
It was the kind of performance–solid line drive contact throughout the game, smart baserunning, good defense–that will put TCU back in the national spotlight again this year.
Houston Runs Wild
Texas Tech won the early game 3-2 due in large part to the performance of starting pitcher Ryan Moseley, as Kendall Rogers wrote. The Raiders won in spite of an extremely aggressive Cougar baserunning plan that netted six stolen bases in as many attempts, bringing Houston to a perfect 12-for-12 on the year so far. Even though Texas Tech has been switching between catchers Kholeton Sanchez and Tyler Floyd so far this year–Sanchez started against Houston–Cougars coach Todd Whitting said his team’s aggressiveness on the bases wasn’t the result of advance scouting.
“I just put on the steal sign,” Whitting said. “That’s all it was. I just wanted to run—I didn’t know anything about the kid before we came in tonight. I just go off what I see, and we’ve got guys who can run, so we might as well take a shot at it.”
Texas Tech coach Tim Tadlock, for his part, said both ends of his battery need to do a better job of slowing their opponents down.
“I think the biggest thing is changing our looks as that goes,” Tadlock said. “Yeah, they were running—there’s no doubt that they were running. I think we had a mixup on who was covering, so that’s something we’ve got to address. But the most efficient thing is to be efficient to the plate, stop their feet and be efficient. We’ve got some guys who can throw back there and give us a chance.”
Whatever the cause, Connor Wong and Zac Taylor stole two bases each (Taylor now has six steals on the year), while Connor Hollis and Robert Grilli chipped in with one apiece. But even if you get guys into scoring position, you have to bring them around, and Houston was doomed by leaving nine men on base.
Jets To Barzilli
It’s not every day a guy comes into a game hitting .688 and raises his batting average, but that’s what TCU third baseman Elliott Barzilli did against ULL, matching Steinhagen’s 3-for-4 with three singles and tossing in a stolen base for good measure. Barzilli, in his first full year as a starter after transferring from Georgia Tech and making 24 starts as a sophomore, has to be one of the hottest hitters in the country in the early stages of the season, particularly considering the relatively tough schedule TCU has palyed so far.
Carter Impresses for ULL
Even though Leger got beat up a little early on, Louisiana-Lafayette found some relief in senior righthander Eric Carter, who flummoxed the red-hot horned frogs with a tailing fastball from a low arm angle. Carter came in with two men on in the fifth and allowed both to score on a double by Luken Baker that could’ve just as easily been an inning-ending groundout to third base, then threw two scoreless innings after that, during which he was the only pitcher to retire Barzilli and Steinhagen. In total, the sidearmer threw 2 1/3 scoreless innings with four strikeouts and two hits allowed.
Duplantier Good Until He Wasn’t
In only his second start back after missing all of 2015, Rice RHP Jon Duplantier was good enough to win through six innings, allowing two runs on five hits, but striking out four and walking none on 84 pitches through that point.
“I just told our team too, on (Duplantier)—you guys just beat a big leaguer,” Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said. “That guy’s going to pitch in the big leagues, in my opinion. Probably won’t see, hardly, a better arm than that. His stuff’s really good. What we wanted to do against him is that if we got a fastball that was in the zone a little bit, we wanted to make contact and hit it. When he throws the ball, kind of down the middle, in on righties, it really runs in hard. He jammed us a lot.”
Asked if there was any way to see the seventh inning coming, Graham smiled and shrugged. “He just got a little wild, that’s all,” Graham said.
But one of the most perilous calls a manager has to make is when to pull his starting pitcher, when most of the time there’s little to no external indication that he’s tiring until the damage is already done.
Duplantier came back out for the seventh inning and completely lost the zone, walking two, hitting two and throwing a wild pitch before he was finally lifted for Zach Esquivel with one run in and the bases loaded with one out. The only out Rice recorded before the pitching change was on a sacrifice bunt, and nobody who reached had to put the ball in play. Duplantier would end up being charged with four runs in total and taking the loss.
Rick Nomura’s Box Score …
… doesn’t tell the whole story. Arkansas’ 5-foot-9, 170 pound senior second baseman officially went 0-for-4 against Rice, but not for lack of trying. Nomura crushed two line drives to right field during the late stages of the game, one in the sixth inning that caught Rice right fielder Charlie Warren on his heels and forced him to make a running catch just shy of the warning track. The other came two innings later, as Warren appeared to trap the ball, but was credited with the out. An incredulous Nomura stood on second base, waiting for the call to be changed, and Van Horn came out to plead his case, but the call stood.
“My angle on it—just the way the glove was, it almost looked like he capped it,” Van Horn said. “He didn’t get under it. That’s what I talked to the umpire about—I mean, that’s a hard call. He’s running out there, his head’s moving, his eyes are moving—it’s almost, to me, on that call: Maybe he shouldn’t run out there. Maybe he should turn and look. I felt like he trapped it.”
Considering that Nomura also rescued a high throw to tag out Ryan Chandler on a stolen base attempt–in the fifth inning, while the game still hung in the balance–his was a particularly notable 0-for-4. In a fair universe, he’d have a couple bloop singles over the course of the rest of the weekend to even it out, but just in case, he warrants mention here.