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Super Regional Preview: TCU at Texas

080408_ruffin_thumb1 For the second year in a row, TCU rolls down Interstate 35 to Disch-Falk Field to take on the Texas Longhorns for the right to represent the great State of Texas in Omaha. The Horned Frogs from Fort Worth bring to Austin a want for revenge after getting within a single game of their first ever College World Series in 2009 before falling in the deciding game to the eventual runner-up Longhorns. TCU has their eyes on the prize, but so does Texas.

TCU enters the series ranked #5 in the NCWBA poll, a spot behind Texas. Each team boasts an identical 49-11 record. Each team is loaded with a trio of All-American caliber starting pitchers, but Texas has one more thing in the repertoire: postseason tradition. The Longhorns have been there, and done that. The Horned Frogs haven’t quite gotten there yet, but that doesn’t mean they won’t upset Goliath.

TCU’s starting lineup is made entirely of .300 hitters. The Frogs hit .345 this season in the Mountain West Conference, including a scoring average just a shade below nine runs a game. Their outfield is led by sophomore Jason Coats (.377, 13 HR, 65 RBI), who needs five hits to break Chad Huffman’s single season school record for hits. Coats teams up with sophomore RF Brance Rivera (.370, 6 HR, 26 RBI) and junior CF Aaron Schultz (.307, 8 HR, 49 RBI) to harass opposing pitchers. The outfield is hardly the only area where TCU keeps strong bats. Senior C Bryan Holaday (.347, 12 HR, 47 RBI) is the type of player with a non-stop motor that teams hate to face. Senior 1B Matt Curry (.353, 17 HR, 59 RBI) showed off his bat this summer in Coppell, helping the Copperheads of the Texas Collegiate League win their 3rd championship, and didn’t slow down when he got back to Fort Worth. His 26 doubles this year are a single-season record at TCU.

Texas does not have the offensive resume that the Horned Frogs do, but don’t let the stat lines fool you. Texas does not beat opponents into submission like their counterparts, but that has yet to prove to be an obstacle for them. After beginning the year with an anemic offense, the Longhorns grew stronger as the year progressed, raising their team average to .289 and slugging out 79 home runs, including seven players with more than seven home runs. Senior DH Russell Moldenhauer exploded last season in Omaha for four home runs, becoming on the eighth player to do so. This season, Moldenhauer hit nine home runs, and is currently leading the team with a .344 average. Junior 1B Tant Shepherd (.333, 7 HR, 34 RBI) has been the most consistent hitter in the lineup while freshman OF Cohl Walla (.321, 8 HR, 37 RBI) has shown that he is a future star. Junior OF Kevin Keyes (.305, 14 HR, 57 RBI) and junior C Cameron Rupp (.317, 10 HR, 54 RBI) bring a load of experience and big play ability. If TCU wants to win, they must keep Rupp and Keyes from creating runs.

4-9. That is the combined record of the eight TCU pitchers who don’t start on the weekends. The trio of junior Steven Maxwell (11-1, 2.51 ERA), sophomore Kyle Winkler (11-1, 3.05 ERA) and freshman Matt Purke (13-0, 3.40 ERA, Louisville Slugger Freshman Pitcher of the Year) are a formidable foe that no team wants to see. Purke was a first round pick of the Texas Rangers in 2009, but failed to sign with the club. Now he is the future of the program. While the spotlight is on the starters, TCU also has a strong bullpen. Senior Tyler Lockwood (6-2, 2.06 ERA, 5 saves), junior Trent Appleby (3-1, 3.41 ERA), and sophomore Kaleb Merck (2-1, 1.08 ERA, 3 saves) have chewed up the late inning all season long.

Texas has three starters that equal the strength of their counterparts, but they also have something the other team doesn’t have. Junior CL Chance Ruffin is what gives Texas the edge. The Longhorn legacy has posted a 6-1 record and 14 saves to compliment his anemic 0.73 ERA. Take away the name next to the stats and they might be mistaken for the  stat line belonging to former Longhorn Huston Street. Sophomore Taylor Jungmann (7-3, 2.10 ERA) and juniors Cole Green (11-1, 2.63 ERA) and Brandon Workman (12-1, 3.43) led the Texas staff in holding opponents to a minute .219 batting average, best in the NCAA. Their 2.45 ERA as a team also sat a top the NCAA leader boards. The Longhorns pitching staff led the NCAA in more categories than TCU’s staff had top ten appearances (5 to 4).

There are a lot of factors this weekend in Austin, but I’ll say right now that my money is on the Longhorns to reach Omaha. I have been able to see each team multiple times on the road and in their home stadiums, but I never saw TCU as the better team. Texas has a pitching staff that is unrivaled. While TCU looks great on paper, but Texas is better on the field. The Longhorns have the advantage of experience and playing a harder overall schedule. TCU will inevitably have to face Chance Ruffin, who shut down nearly every batter he faced since New Mexico’s Justin Howard spoiled his first save attempt on the year with a ninth inning home run in the second game of the season. TCU will stay close, but the Longhorns will ultimately make another trip to their summer home in Nebraska.

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