OMAHA, Neb. — TCU Shortstop Taylor Featherston talked about how the team was caught up in the moment, taking in the atmosphere of the 2009 Super Regional-too much gawking and not enough playing led to a super regional exit at the hands of the Longhorns last season.
“I just had to step back and grasp the environment there,” Featherston said.
A more experienced Horned Frog team probably won’t be intimidated by the UFCU Disch-Falk Field atmosphere this time around-at least that is what head baseball coach Jim Schlossnagle hopes is the case– especially when the Louisville Slugger Freshman of the Year, Matt Purke, takes the mound Friday.
Purke (13-0) readily admitted that he was nervous entering his Fort Worth Regional start against Arizona. The Texas Rangers prospect, later anointed a TCU recruiting gem for the ages, hadn’t quite been tested like he was in the Fort Worth Regional.
Purke allowed four runs (three earned) in 6 1/3 innings in an 11-5 win. That won’t be good enough Friday. The friendly Lupton Stadium crowd won’t be near as raucous as the Disch-Falk atmosphere, nor as burnt orange. Worse, Purke can’t fall back on past experiences of this magnitude to calm those nerves that flared, or at least hiccupped, in the Fort Worth Regional.
Arizona averaged 7.1 runs per game compared to Texas’ 6.9. Texas is also ranked 221 in Division I baseball batting average (.289). In other words, if Purke pitches the way he can, and that’s filthy Major League stuff, he should dominate the Texas lineup like he eventually got around to doing against ‘Zona. If Purke lets the atmosphere rattle him, even if its for a single inning, Schlossnagle knows that might spell trouble given the style of baseball Texas plays.
“Certainly the thing you have to do when you playing Texas from a pitching stand point is to get their lead-off hitter out,” Schlossnagle said. “If you don’t do that they are going to put a bunt down and make you play defense with that bunt. If they string together a couple of hits then that’s when they are going to have a big inning.”
One big inning may be all Texas needs to secure a victory Friday– Texas boasts the best ERA in Division I baseball (2.44). While TCU ranks in the top 10 in Division I baseball in runs scored and hits, it will boil down to which pitcher is more dominant each game of the series.
“It’s not the best team that wins, it’s the team that plays the best,” Schlossnagle said.
For this series, magnify that theory right onto the pitching mound. In hindsight Purke might be considered the best pitcher who played in this series, maybe the best player period, but all that matters Friday is that he has to pitch his best if TCU wants to steal the opening game against Texas.