Defense rarely plays as large a part in a baseball game, as was the case Tuesday night as the No. 7 TCU Horned Frogs took out the UT-Arlington Mavericks, 7-3.
TCU’s offense exploded early in the game to cushion the Frogs’ lead, 4-1. Junior shortstop Taylor Featherston scored three runs while driving in two. His home run to center field confirmed that the new regulation NCAA bats weren’t the root cause for the previous Frogs’ hitting slump after TCU tallied 45 hits at Texas Tech over the weekend.
However, the Mavericks also hit the ball well. In fact, the Mavericks outhit the Frogs by a count of 11-10.
If not for spectacular defensive play from senior catcher Jimmie Pharr, Featherston and senior first baseman Joe Weik, the Frogs would have lost their second-consecutive Tuesday evening game.
In the fourth inning, the Mavericks threatened to score off Frogs’ senior reliever Trent Appleby. Appleby delivered a pitch that seemed destined to travel down the first baseline for a three-run scoring double. But Weik dove down the line to save at least two runs for his pitcher.
“I told our guys that the difference in the game tonight was defense,” head baseball coach Jim Schlossnagle said. “They outhit us 11-10, but we simply played better on defense.
Weik’s play was obviously the biggest, and that was the difference in being up two runs or being tied or down one [run].”
Weik agreed with Schlossnagle that defense was the difference in the game. He said that he was simply reacting to the ball because he thought the ball may come his way off the bat.
The other defensive star of the game was Pharr. Pharr, who loomed in the shadow of TCU All-American and Detroit Tigers 2010 draft pick Bryan Holaday a season ago, successfully picked off a runner on a back pick to first base to end the UTA scoring threat in the eighth inning. Pharr also did an excellent job keeping the ball in front of him the entire game.
Featherston also showed off his range in keeping several balls in the infield, which kept Maverick runners from advancing.
In the bottom of the eighth inning, the UTA defense came unwound as backup catcher Daniel Garcia allowed two passed balls, allowing TCU to plate one runner and place another at third. Then Maverick shortstop Daniel Jordan allowed a ground ball to travel under his glove and into the outfield, allowing TCU to score its seventh and final run of the ballgame.
TCU junior closer Erik Miller slammed the door on any type of Maverick rally in the ninth thanks to well positioned defense behind him. A line drive, caught by a perfectly positioned Featherston, ended the game.
TCU has now recorded 55 hits in its last four games. TCU junior left fielder Jason Coats officially broke out of his batting slump as well. He hit two home runs and drove in six RBIs over the weekend series at Texas Tech and hit four balls hard Tuesday. He collected three hits in five at-bats while notching two more RBIs.
Whatever hitting bug Coats caught in the West Texas air over the weekend seemed to have certainly spread to his teammates on the trip back Fort Worth. This isn’t the type of illness the players want to get over anytime soon.
Alex Apple is a freshman political science and journalism double major from Nashville, Tenn. and a writer for SportDFW.com.