The Horned Frogs have scored at least seven runs in seven of their first 10 Mountain West Conference games – and they haven’t even gotten to enjoy the mountains yet. They’ll get to begin exploring the elevation tonight as they open a three-game series against Brigham Young University (16-20, 3-4) in Provo, Utah.
“It’s going to be exciting for the hitters,” junior utility player Chad Huffman said, “and the pitchers are going to have to pitch a little better, I guess.”
The Frogs swept the University of Nevada at Las Vegas and Air Force in Fort Worth the last two weekends and took three of four, including a 9-4 win over BYU, in San Diego at the MWC Preseason Tournament.
Head coach Jim Schlossnagle said the team will try not to let the thin air at more than 4,500 feet above sea level change the team’s game plan and disrupt its winning ways.
“It always seems to play a role, especially for at team that’s not used to a playing in that environment,” he said. “You don’t really make a big deal of it. We’ll just go out there and do our normal thing.”
Huffman said the Frog hitters will have to put the high altitude out of their heads and focus on hitting the ball hard, not trying to drive it into the air.
“I know as a hitter, I’m not going to try to change my approach at all,” he said. “Just because of the altitude and the ball flies a little bit better, it doesn’t mean I’m going to be ‘dipping and driving.'”
The team is hitting .323 with 86 runs in its 10 conference contests.
Huffman and shortstop Bryan Kervin have led the charge, hitting .395 and .452 in the MWC, respectively. Huffman has scored 11 times and hit two home runs and Kervin has crossed the plate 13 times with one round-tripper. Both have driven in 13.
Other Frogs have used the accommodating conference pitching to get their seasons on track. Freshman infielder Corey Steglich has seen his average increase by more than 90 points, hitting safely in 13 of 36 at-bats and driving in nine.
Outfielder Ryan Pack’s average has risen from .164 to .241 in his eight conference starts. Pack has driven in 10 with one home run in league play. Outfielder Austin Adams is hitting .520 in 25 MWC at-bats to bring his average up to .320 for the year.
Huffman said the team-wide production is a function of its attitude.
“Everybody’s playing a lot more loose,” he said. “You can’t forget this is a game. We’re playing like we did when we were in little league. That’s what’s so much fun about right now, is that we’re playing the game like it’s supposed to be played.”
Relief pitcher Omar Arif said the Frog staff will have to concentrate on keeping men off base in the thin air because big hits are going to come, but the damage they cause can be limited.
“Obviously the ball flies a lot better,” Arif said, “but I think that for the most part you just got to stick with your game plan and keep making pitches – not let the altitude dictate the way you pitch.”
Schlossnagle said the pitcher’s will make a few changes in approaching hitters because of the altitude, but that they mostly need to put the elevation out of their heads and just pitch.
“You probably have to make some adjustments on pitching inside a little bit because your breaking ball is not quite as sharp,” Schlossnagle said. “But if you make too much of it then it’s got a chance to work backward for you. You have to limit your baserunners because you’re more than likely going to give you some home runs on some fly balls.