TCU and Missouri State reflect similarities

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While TCU is attempting to become the seventh school to earn four consecutive College World Series berths and Missouri State’s sole appearance came in 2003, the Horned Frogs and Bears have more than a few things in common heading into their Super Regional showdown in Fort Worth.

Starting Pitching TBA

While MSU has yet to release their starting rotation plans because of the status of their ace Doug Still, TCU head coach Jim Schlossnagle said his team has a starting pitching set up in mind, but he is waiting to release the Horned Frogs’ plan until the Bears reveal their arms arrangement.

Still is the Missouri Valley Conference Newcomer of the Year, transferring from Jefferson College, totaling an 8-2 record to go along with a 2.66 earned run average, 85 strikeouts, and 24 walks in 98 innings of work.

However, MSU head coach Keith Guttin has said what he plans to do if Still can pitch in Game 1 Saturday.

“We don’t know honestly if Still is going to be able to start tomorrow and won’t know until tonight or tomorrow morning, depending on how he feels,” MSU head coach Keith Guttin said. “It will be Still, [Dylan] Coleman or [Jordan] Knutson Saturday and one of them Sunday and whoever is left on Monday.”

Still pitched two games in the Fayetteville Regional last week, throwing 5.2 innings on 72 pitches in the round one game against Oklahoma State and 5.0 innings on 70 pitches with two days’ rest against the regional host, the Arkansas Razorbacks.

“Tremendous, gritty performance,” Guitton said. “Going into it, honestly, I was hoping to get two or three innings and he just shut them down. He felt fine. Was in command, and we got five. It was a great effort. A gutty effort on his part in two days.”

Guittin said if Still doesn’t start Game 1, right-hander Dylan Coleman or left-hander Jordan Knutson would start, and that Still would still be in the mix for Game 2 or Game 3 start.

Knutson also carried a heavy workload last weekend for the Bears, pitching in all four regional games. He won in relief in games one and two, as well as recording his first save of 2017 in Game 7.

Schlossnagle was less specific when addressing his starting rotation plan, leaving room for speculation.
Maybe Schlossnagle decides to roll with his ace, sophomore right-hander Jared Janczak, who’s started and won a Super Regional game on the road against Texas A&M last season and is 2-1 in five postseason starts, including an eight-inning gem against Virginia in the Fort Worth Regional.
He has earned the distinction of ace with a 9-0 record and 1.89 ERA season in 2017.

From there, it’s anyone’s guess who could come next. Senior right-hander Brian Howard is undefeated in his last four postseason starts against Arizona State, Texas A&M, Coastal Carolina, and Dallas Baptist, and is TCU’s first back-to-back 10-game winner.

Redshirt senior right-hander Mitchell Traver is 4-2 in six postseason starts and has surrendered one run in four home postseason appearances. In his last three starts this season against Cal, Texas, and Central Connecticut State, he has a 1.12 ERA, 21 strikeouts and just four walks.

With those three pitchers starting in the Fort Worth regional, TCU won all three of its games. Janzcak, Howard, and Traver have a combined 15 starts, 10 wins and 98 innings pitched in NCAA Tournament action.

 But, Schlossnagle is hunting to find innings for left-hander Nick Lodolo in the NCAA Tournament, even if it means bringing his freshman All-American out of the bullpen for the first time.

Lodolo started 14 games in 2017, totaling a 5-1 record with a 4.28 earned-run average. He struck out 69 batters in 73.2 innings.

“For the future of our team and our program, I want Nick to have a chance to pitch in this kind of environment,” Schlossnagle said. “That may be a start, that may be out of the bullpen. We got him a good sim game this week, practiced a few situations.”

Lodolo pitched the opener of the last four regular-season series for TCU while Janczak missed time with a shoulder strain, and pitched the opener of the Big 12 tournament against Kansas. He finished 2-0 with three no-decisions.

However, Schlossnagle said  TCU’s pitching riches may not matter this weekend.

 “The Super Regional is the one time of year where pitching depth really doesn’t matter,” Schlossnagle said. “It’s about the first four or five or six guys, unless you get an extra-inning game or you’re getting blown out and you want to save some innings on the high-end guys. He’s certainly one of those five or six guys. We’ll see how the games go day to day.”
The Horned Frogs utilized just four relievers: Jake Eissler, Cal Coughlin, Sean Wymer, and Durbin Feltman for 5.1 innings in their three-game sweep of the regional. Traver departed with a 3-1 lead in the eighth inning against CCSU. Janczak left with a 4-1 lead against Virginia in the ninth inning. Howard was jogged to the dugout in the seventh with a 14-2 lead. Six relief pitchers plus Lodolo went untouched.

MSU has two-headed monster at the back end of its bullpen between junior right-hander Jake Fromson and senior right-hander Bryan Young.

Fromson, used primarily in the middle innings, won MVC Pitcher of the Year this season with the second best rate of walks and hits allowed per inning, 0.78, in the nation to go along with an 8-3 record, three saves and 85 strikeouts in 72.2 innings. Young, MSU’s all-time appearance leader, has saved eight games for the Bears this season to go along with a 1-1 record, 1.53 earned run average, 47 strikeouts, 17 walks, and hitters are batting a paltry .118 against him.

TCU pitchers are 14th in the country in strikeouts per nine innings at 9.3. Missouri State pitchers are 22nd overall at 9.0.

Lineups stocked with power and patience 

“I think we’re pretty similar to TCU’s lineup with some boppers who put the ball over the fence, and some guys who grind out and win at-bats,” MSU All-American third baseman Jake Burger said.

Burger compares similarly to TCU catcher Evan Skoug, an All-American in his own right, winning Co-Big 12 Player of the Year honors after hitting 18 home runs and driving in 62 runs.

Burger played on USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team with Evan Skoug last summer and was one of two players to start all 19 games for Team USA.

Both Burger and  MSU shortstop Jeremy Eierman each have hit 22 home runs for their team that clubbed the 13th-most long balls in the country with 78.

Skoug’s wingman, with Luken Baker out of the lineup for the rest of the season since a collision at first base resulted in surgery, has been right fielder Austen Wade. He has five home runs as part of a .355 batting average, .523 slugging percentage, and a team-high 45 walks, all while missing five games.

“There were times when I felt like moving him down in the order after Luken got hurt,” Scholssnagle said. “Both of these guys handle left-handed pitching, but he’s too valuable at the top of the order. He sets the tone leading off the game. He gives the rest of the lineup a chance to see what’s going on, and he may not get a hit or get on base every time, but you can count on it being at least five, six, or seven pitches in an at-bat, and there’s a lot of selflessness in that.”

This season, Wade has gotten on base in nearly every game, reaching in 53 of 56 games he’s played.

Wade and his Horned Frog teammates are sixth in the nation with 329 walks drawn. Of those 329, 115 have come all the way to score at a 34.9 percent clip.  Missouri State is fourth in walks drawn with 346.

“A lot of our wins correlate with our positive numbers in the free 90 feet battle, so we’re going to take what a pitcher gives us,” Wade said. “If he’s up there throwing strikes, we’re going to try to put good swings on balls, but when guys are competing like crazy and missing a few pitches here and there, you try to take deep counts and deep at bats. If they’re going to give us 90 feet, we’ll take it.”

TCU ranks 26th in runs scored with 423. Missouri State ranks 24th with 430.

First pitch for Game 1 of the Fort Worth Super Regional is set for 5 p.m. Saturday at Lupton Stadium.