Know Your Opponent: No. 19 TCU Horned Frogs

0
118
Then-redshirt junior, Tyler Eckberg throws a pitch to an Oklahoma University batter on the K-State home field. K-State won 3-2 in the first game of their doubleheader against OU on Saturday, April 17, 2021. (Archive photo by Natalie Leonard l Collegian Media Group)

Kansas State baseball travels to Fort Worth, Texas, to take on No. 19 TCU for its first Big 12 test in a three-game series after losing an ugly game against Air Force Wednesday.

It’s not ideal to go into conference play after a loss, but the Wildcats are playing their best baseball so far, winning eight games consecutively and 11 of their past 14. Over the greatest turnaround in the 2022 college baseball season, several Wildcats either found their groove or continued it.

BATTERS:

Preseason All-American Dylan Phillips raised his batting average to .321 with 16 RBIs after a slower start than expected to the season. Two of Phillips’ RBIs come off his 35th career home run at K-State, which was smoked 461 feet over the batter’s eye behind center field.

Dominic Johnson and Josh Nicoloff carry heavy hitting streaks into Fort Worth as well — Johnson looking for his 15-game hitting streak and Nicoloff seeking his 13th. Johnson snapped a nine-game 2+ hitting streak against Air Force but only has one game without a single hit this season at CSU Bakersfield on Feb. 26.

PITCHERS:

K-State’s one-two starting pitcher punch Friday and Saturday also need to continue with their low ERAs and high strikeout rates to have success against TCU. RHP Blake Adams (2-1, 2.53 era) is having the season of his college career as the Friday starter, with 41 strikeouts in 32 innings pitched, while Saturday starter, RHP Connor McCullough (3-1, 2.73 era), has posted 30 strikeouts in 29.2 innings.

No. 19 TCU:

The 19th best team in the country, according to D1 Baseball, hasn’t disappointed critics with a 15-5 record, including a 2-1 series victory over the Baylor Bears.

TCU’s bats were largely considered the Frog’s “weak” spot ahead of the 2022 campaign, but the team’s offense is among the hottest in the Big 12.

Seven of TCU’s eight everyday position players comfortably recorded home runs this season, tallying 15 dingers and collectively batting an average of .299 between all eight.

Senior Tommy Sacco leads the bunch, hitting .370 with three homers and 17 RBIs and recording 15 runs. Other players raking at the plate include Brayden Taylor (.357 BA, 26 R, 3 HR, 19 RBI), David Bishop (.333 BA, 16 R, 4 HR, 30 RBI) and Elijah Nunez (.333 BA, 28 R, 11 RBI), who struggled at the plate in 2021.

Typically TCU’s strong suit, the team’s pitching is still very good but isn’t exceeding expectations. Horned Frog starting pitchers average a 4.20 ERA between the Friday-Sunday rotations.

However, TCU has pitched well enough to record an impressive 6-1 record with 75 strikeouts combined.

ANALYSIS:

K-State’s lethal Arkansas-transfer duo (Adams and McCullough) favor the Wildcats on Fridays and Saturdays. However, they’ll need run support from the offense and consistent appearances from bullpen pitchers to secure a win or a series victory (2-1 or 3-0).

K-State’s Sunday rotation is yet to be set in stone and will be the Wildcats’ biggest challenge in Fort Worth. It’s likely to feature sophomore RHP Christian Ruebeck on the mound.

Ruebeck throws up to 96 mph but struggles with consistency and can be rather wildly effective. Ruebeck has a 15.00 ERA, most of which kick-started in his first start against Auburn (3.0 IP, 10 ER).

It isn’t a pitcher’s dream to record 14 walks in three games started and five appearances, but Ruebeck has also struck out 20 batters in those eight appearances.

Although coming off a loss on a cold and windy mid-week game, the Wildcats need to continue their hot stretch against No. 19 TCU to have any chance of a series win.

Friday’s first pitch is set for 6 p.m. at Charlie and Marie Lupton Stadium in Fort Worth, Texas, with viewing available on Big 12 Now on ESPN+.

Advertisement