Formidable Frogs test LU
FORT WORTH — Lamar University will be facing a formidable foe Friday night in its 13th NCAA baseball tournament appearance and first since 2004.
Texas Christian University, which is ranked sixth in the country by Baseball America and seventh by Collegiate Baseball, will be the Cardinals’ opponent for tonight’s 7 p.m. Fort Worth Regional game in 3,500-seat Lupton Stadium on the TCU campus.
The 46-11 Horned Frogs are the four-team regional’s top-seeded team, while the 35-24 Cardinals are the No. 4 seed. Second-seeded Baylor, which is 34-22 on the season, will take on No. 3 seed Arizona (33-22) in today’s 2 p.m. regional opener.
Being a lower seed is nothing new, however, to coach Jim Gilligan’s Cardinals, who seem to be peaking at just the right time after encountering one adversity after another along the way this season. The resilient Cardinals are fresh from conquering the eight-team Southland Conference Tournament field at Whataburger Field in Corpus Christi last week as the No. 7 seed.
The Cardinals started their week of upheaval by knocking off second-seeded Northwestern State 4-3 behind a gritty pitching performance by Matison Smith. They continued it with back-to-back wins of 10-7 and 9-3 over No. 6-seed McNeese State, and they concluded it with a resounding 17-7 drubbing of regular-season champion Texas State in Saturday night’s championship game.
With a 10-3 record, Smith will be two wins away from matching Lamar’s one-season record for victories when he takes the mound Friday night against the Horned Frogs, who won both the Mountain West Conference regular-season championship and its postseason tournament. A senior right-hander from Nederland, Smith has a 4.54 earned run average, and he has struck out 62 batters and walked 31 in 113.0 innings.
Sophomore Kyle Winkler, who sports a 10-1 record and 3.14 ERA, will be the starter for TCU, which is riding a seven-game winning streak and has gone 23-4 at home this season. The 5-foot-11 right-hander from Sugar Land Kempner has struck out 78 and walked 29 in a team-high 100.1 innings.
Center fielder Anthony Moore and shortstop Aaron Buchanan are among Lamar’s offensive headliners. Moore, a senior from Cedar Hill, is fresh from being voted the SLC Tournament’s Most Valuable Player and from being honored as the CB360 National Player of the Week, while Buchanan takes a team-leading .349 batting average into the regional.
Moore collected 10 hits in 16 at-bats during the Cardinals’ four-game sweep to the SLC Tournament title to improve his batting average from .283 to .322. He slugged three home runs to increase his team-leading season total to 10, and he added two doubles.
Buchanan, a junior from Houston Klein Forest by way of Galveston Junior College carries and 10-game hitting streak into the regional, and he leads Lamar in hits with 80 in 58 games, in runs scored with 63, in total bases with 109, in bases on balls with 43 and with an on-base percentage of .466. He’s also tied with Moore for the team lead in triples with three.
Sophomore infielder Brance Rivera from Muscatine, Iowa is TCU’s leading hitter with a .391 average. Sophomore outfielder Jason Coats of Plano leads the team in hits with 80 and in runs scored with 60, while senior infielder Matt Curry of Red Oak is the Horned Frogs’ power leader with 26 doubles, 17 home runs and 62 runs batted in.
The Horned Frogs’ offensive potency is indicative in the fact they have 12 players batting .300 or better, and they boast an impressive team batting average of .343.
Today’s regional losers will meet in a 2 p.m. elimination game on Saturday, while the winners will play at 7 p.m. The Fort Worth Regional winner will advance next week to play the winner of the Austin Regional in a Super Regional. Host Texas, Louisiana-Lafayette, Rider and Rice University are the Austin Regional participants.