By Alexander Haynes
After dropping a game 6-8 against Rice on Wednesday, the best recipe for the Texas State Bobcats baseball team may have been to return to their fundamentals, and to the fundamentals they went. The pitching staff showed complete control in their style and efficiency, while the best of the batters owned their leadership presence in tone-setting patience. However, numbers can paint a brutal story of frustration. Baseball leaves no mercy or forgiveness for the detailed errors, and the Bobcats are left re-learning the pain of number one despite taking the series against the McNeese State Cowboys 2-1.
Friday night opened with a sense of urgency the Bobcats needed. An urgency that spoke to finding a consistent identity within the team’s process. Nicholas Fraze epitomized that notion on the mound, while Derek Schieble and Jonathan Ortega took the power to the batting lineup. In other words, the veteran leadership took over to carry the Bobcats to a 12-1 victory.
Fraze’s pitching style spoke of progression and efficiency, moving through seven innings in 84 pitches. McNeese State is a team that has been bereft of functionally pattern runs, and instead has been relying on power to get over Southland Conference pitches. Fraze, however, showed he has the potential to be more than the other guy. Instead of just chasing batters down with power, he manipulated pitches slightly to net nine fly outs and six grounds out. In totality, Fraze forced 11 batters out in two or less pitches.
While scoring 12 runs leaves plenty of moments in which the Bobcats batting line up controlled the flow of the game, the first inning paints how their methodology works. Scheible walked in the first at bat after eight pitches. Ortega fouled out, but Scheible took advantage of an uncertain Aidan Anderson and stole second, then advanced to third to set up a scoring play.
It would take until the bottom of four for the Bobcats to score again off an agile Jaylen Hubbard thanks to Dylan Paul’s double, but after that point the scoring flowed. Hubbard would score three times in the game, moving with speed and focus on the baseline due to wild pitches. Both Scheible and Ortega would take the headline with two hits, two RBIs and a walk each. The evening was direct control for the Bobcats lineup.
A point to the detriment of the Bobcats has been a propensity to fall behind, and then swing for the fences, forgetting all plate balance late in the eighth and ninth innings. Yet, instead of this bland and predictable pattern, the Bobcats ushered a 4-3 win in the eighth inning behind the bats of Ortega, Scheible and Hubbard establishing process.
First, the pitching staff’s team effort ought to be noted. In 2017, the average runs produced in all of college baseball was 5.69. The logic, albeit simplistic, is that to win an average game the pitching staff must keep teams to under six runs.
If this were a kitchen staff, Connor Reich was the manager who established the atmosphere in six innings of success. Broc Bosse then took over in the seventh with a risky entrée, but after 33 pitches, the risk pleased patrons allowing only one run. Brayden Theriot had pressure to close the ninth with a dessert speaking to a mix of sweetness but exquisite beauty – and he did in 16 pitches and two strikeouts to mitigate disaster.
Not only did the pitching staff set the stage for each subsequent cook, but the batting lineup was able to ascertain that advantage with a winning eighth inning. Save Paul landing a homerun in the seventh inning, the bats puddled either ground outs or fly outs. It was not as if they were swinging sloppily, but by the end of the game they had only eight swings and misses out of 148 pitches.
The eighth inning arose as a haunting nightmare based on the first four games. Jared Huber differed the tone, however, and after a seven pitch at-bat walked. Jacob Almendarez sent a slap-shot up the middle, followed by Scheible doing the same. With two-men on, Ortega had the opportunity to chase down pitches to net a homerun – a disappointing habit from his first games. Instead, he took two strikes, then landed a sacrifice fly to score Huber. A wild-pitch scored Almendarez, and Hubbard owned that momentum with a double that ominously scratched the foul-line.
That ominous fate of disaster which is the “almost” of the foul-line could have set another tone of “almost” for the Bobcats. But, in the fantastical storylines of baseball, mitigating that ominous line might be equal to mitigating an early season drought.
Numbers are powerful, and no number is more powerful for the Bobcats baseball team than the frustrating one. That is the number of runs that McNeese State scored which gave them a demoralizing victory on Sunday.
Alas, there were other important numbers: six, the sum of the number of walks and hit by pitches which; six, runners left on base for the Bobcats; zero, number of hits; 136, the number of pitches which McNeese State’s Adam Goree and Cayne Ueckert had to use to end the Bobcats lineup; 134, the number of pitches which Brandon Lewis, Cam Baird, Seth Jordan, and Zachary Leigh used to keep the Cowboys to one run.
A 58-minute weather delay left a frustrating note in the top of the third, but the rain would not end the fire coming form both pitching staffs. They were almost their equal, using round about ways to produce outs. Naturally, that created walks, but walks which resulted in no production.
Jordan earned the run after allowing a hit, a sacrifice bunt fumble and a walk. Leigh could only stare as an eternal pop-fly hung tauntingly above the ball field to score the sacrifice run for the win.
One run was all it took to leave the Bobcats in frustration. Some games are best told in precise details and context of what occurred, and some games are best told in a paint by the numbers format. This game, was a result and confounding of the latter.
The Bobcats travel to play the 3-3 Baylor Bears in Waco, Texas on Wednesday. They will then return home to host a weekend series against 0-5 Stephen F. Austin.
Featured image by Nicole Wolf.