By Alexander Haynes
Bleakness, hope and frustration – the trinity of baseball reactions experienced in the Texas State Bobcat’s opening series game against the Oklahoma State Cowboys. Friday night was a quick operation, until relief pitching created a roller coaster of events. Saturday was different as the Bobcats efficiently operated to create a plethora of opportunity on both sides of the diamond. Then Sunday came and epitomized every frustration that can be had in a baseball game. Although three games in, the season young, the ship took a dark turn early and must be corrected with substantive and clear markers. A path and team identity must be found, less the Bobcats desperately swim through another .500 season.
Opening Night Disaster
For the first five innings of play, the pitching game proceeded as both teams would hope. The Bobcats recorded four hits, while the Cowboys recorded only one. Unfortunately, the Bobcats demise came with dormant bats – three times they had batters walk, but without any subsequent production, letting the Cowboys mistakes go unpunished. While the walks ought to deliver a lesson in temperance, the following batter was struck out swinging or caught sending an erroneous fly deep.
Then came the top of the sixth inning for the Cowboys. Cameron Dobbs struck out to open, but as Ryan Cash took the batter’s box the game changed. Contrasted to the way the Cowboys had been swinging, he waited for four balls to land and quietly took first. The rest of the inning, however, was not quiet. Cash stole second, then on consecutive throwing errors, then advanced to third and scored. Starting pitcher Nicholas Fraze was poignantly rattled, walking the next batter, leaving the flood gates to be closed by relief pitcher Braden Pearson.
Pearson, however, was equally prone to disaster giving up two runs. Considering what could have been, leaving the bottom of the sixth with the score only 3-0 was not a holistic disaster. Yet, with the unproductiveness of the lineup stealing the narrative, the seventh inning was another opportunity for the Cowboys. A fielding error let Jake Taylor on base, and another error let him score. Cash checked in on another RBI, putting the score at 5-0.
The Bobcats would score two runs, but at an underwhelming rate. With the final score 6-2, the night was completely opposite of hopeful. Two facts, embellished throughout the series, stood clear. On a positive note, Jonathan Ortega has somehow to improve his plate control, taking seven balls including a walk in his three at-bats. The negative note was the allure of the fastball the team fell to so often, embellished by Derek Schieble striking out on the last play of the game.
The First Win
Productive, almost boringly so, fit the description for the Bobcats as they took Saturday afternoon’s game 10-1. Connor Reich stole the show, pitching seven innings of two hit baseball in a mere 94 total pitches. Reich struck out eight batters, allowed no walks and saw only 24 batters. He also received good fielding defense as the Bobcats recorded one error, contrasted to the five devastating notes from the night before.
The entire Bobcats lineup earned a hit, less Mickey Scott who more impressively saw two walks. The seven strikeouts to four walks was inverse of what will create consistent success, but the methodology on the evening worked. Scheible, Ryan Newman and Jaylen Hubbard each had two RBIs, notating a systemic, coordinated plate approach.
In totality, the Bobcats controlled the flow of the game, saw the pitches they wanted and ignored the others. Furthermore, the one telling stat from 2017 came true again: steals. In Friday’s loss, the Cowboys successfully stole once, while the Bobcats were caught on their sole attempt. On Saturday, the Bobcats had the single steal attempt of the game, and succeeded, an intriguing note on the psychological aspect of the game.
Punctually, and carried into Sunday, was the unfortunate side effect of half the lineup patiently waiting for hits, while the other half being prone to swing for effect – 16 batters left on base over two games is unacceptable.
A Picturesque Sunday
The weather over Bobcat Stadium was a turn from the dreariness of the past two days. Yet, it was not a turn for the dreary bats which plagued Friday night. Not all picturesque scenes are equally beautiful, and this one epitomized the deepest frustrations for both the Bobcats’ batting order and rotation.
Heading into Sunday, the supposition was chasing the starting pitcher from the mound would provide the necessary opening to start positioning the Bobcats’ batters in the right tone. Yet, after chasing starter Mitchell Stone from the mound in two innings, Joe Lienhard calmed the storm and earned the win. The Cowboys early defense made mental errors, leading to shortcomings in the finishing touches. The late defense was a whole new persona and showed what determined resiliency can do for a veteran roster.
The Bobcats lineup could learn to flip a mental switch just as the Cowboys roster did. After the three-run second inning, the bats went stale and incongruent. Nine batters were left on base on the day, marked by seven strikeouts and a holistic lack of relaxation. The sharp juxtaposition was seen in six walks, which Jared Huber took two, once again failing to see follow up success
The first series of walks was derived from an unfortunate double-play off the bat of Ortega in the fourth inning. The next series was ended by another ground out off the bat of Huber, and in the bottom of eight Jacob Almendarez struck out swinging. Just as hope rose, the Cowboys found a way to get out of a jam in a game defined by “almost.”
The Bobcats rotation was just the opposite – stuck in an endless jam. Starter Brandon Lewis revealed signs of trepidation in the first inning but kept the bleeding to one run. However, in the third fielding failed to support Lewis and Colin Simpson put the nail in the coffin with a soul-sucking two-run homerun.
Simpson’s at bat, although early, epitomized the way the Cowboys attacked on the day. A notorious power-hitter, Simpson attempted to go after each pitch with ferocity, while other batters took a role to patiently wait. The summation of the series might be that the Cowboy’s knew their hitter’s strengths and identity, surviving just long enough on those tenants. The Bobcats did not own a clear identity, and the results showed in a “too little, too late” 6-5 loss. In the ninth inning the Bobcats attempting to desperately telegraph each swing over the fence instead of establishing systemic scoring was a foreboding note on the series. In other words, they were playing without a clear identity.
Featured image by Texas State Athletics.