By Alexander Haynes
The Texas State Bobcats, coming off a reverberating 7-1 beat down of rival UTSA on Wednesday evening, traversed to the Texas A&M Invite to test their endurance. Taking on well-rounded teams in singular games is challenge enough, but battling Louisiana Tech, Texas A&M and Utah in double headers would be as much about mental endurance as anything. The following games would be testing finishing touch, limiting mistakes, and staying focused. The 2-3 record at the invite showed mixed results, putting the Bobcats under that wall between ‘good’ and untapped potential of greatness. The glass is either half-full (ability to string together hits, walks and bunts) or half-empty (too many batters left on base, in-field blandness and the verbose home-run allowed) as the Bobcats head into Sun Belt play next weekend.
Splitting Pitches – Splitting Games
Friday’s series against the Utah Utes began proficiently despite awkward in-proficient snapshots. Both teams had demonstrably calm pitchers through the first innings, with Randi Rupp getting through her first four in 46 pitches and the Utes Miranda Viramontes going through 44 pitches in three innings. Those 46 pitches held moments where the Bobcats infield was sloppy, and the even odder moment when Rupp hit Breonna Castaneda with a 1-2 count.
No matter, despite Utah being well prepared to battle Rupp, she showed evolution in an odd way, tempting pitches in the hit zone, resulting in less than ideal swings and thus the Utes grounding out and popping up erroneous shots. The only run they scored was due to a bevy of fielding errors.
Of even more positive note, Krista Jacobs saw a return to the closing role in the final two innings – she was perfect, with no hits allowed, six batters faced and only 11 pitches thrown.
The Bobcats batting, although scoring six runs, was more akin to swinging at will, with a season high 18 swings and misses and eight out of 11 batters striking out. Christiana McDowell continued a streak of setting up runs with athletic base running. She had two hits, two runs, and walked once. Ariel Ortiz and Bailee Carter found a consistent pattern, netting two RBIs a piece, capitalizing on the baseline work for a 6-1 victory.
The three batters who did not strike out? Ortiz, Carter and McDowell. Carter had one swing and miss, Ortiz had two.
Unfortunately, the second game of the day featured Rupp attempting another outing with only hours of rest. The excitement was quick, as a dead infield for the Bobcats created disaster in the first. The Louisiana Tech Bulldogs cracked the first two hits as only singles, but fielding errors advanced runners prematurely. After seeing their advantageous point, the Bulldogs attempted bunt successfully funneled two runners home on another inexcusable fielding error.
Rupp and later McKenna Fryar stayed clean the rest of the evening. Akin to inning one, Rupp’s pitching was tedious through the rest of the game, but she was successful in negotiating long at bats by again forcing batters into ground outs.
The batting lineup, however, was unprepared for the Bulldogs pitching. Although they were much more controlled in their swings from earlier in the day, the misses came at the end of long at bats. Deception was laden on every corner as Tech’s Preslee Gallaway spent only 90 pitches to obtain the 2-0 victory. In the most pungent and simplistic of terms, the batting lineup was objectively tiresome.
The schedule makers deserve a nod for placing Louisiana Tech back on the schedule less than 24 hours later. Another double-header would pit Fryar against the backend of the
Bulldogs rotation in Krystal De La Cruz (0-5 on the season). The lack of brevity in the Bulldogs pitching was clear, and the Bobcats took quick care of frustrations from the afternoon before with walks, advantageous errors, and subsequent, clean hitting.
McDowell and Hailey MacKay continued to string together a dangerous batting string to establish the first run. After McDowell singled, Kourtney Pock pushed her forward with a sacrifice bunt. The play netted a score after MacKay singled, allowing McDowell’s speed to score from second. That pattern of play established the fourth inning, when Carter walked, followed by Haleigh Davis powering a triple. After De La Cruz was replaced, Brianna Sannem shot a two-run, homerun, extending the lead 5-0.
Fryar’s performance in the 6-2 win, and throughout the season, is continuing to provide huge motivation for the Bobcat’s longevity. In completing all seven innings, she went through 24 batters in a mere 78 pitches. The interesting aspect of her pitching is the lack of strike outs. The Bulldogs have an intimidating lineup, making the strike process often a natural risk for opposing pitchers. While Fryar only forced four strikeouts and three ground outs, impressively, 14 fly-outs proved she can adjust her pitching to force a team swing too early. The power and strikes will come, after all this is her freshman year.
Top-Ten Showcase Game
On the second game of Saturday, the Bobcats had a chance to defeat number seven Texas A&M. Hence the name of the invite, Texas A&M Invite, the Aggies had the natural comfort of playing at home. Then again, that homestay could have resulted in complacency. And it almost did in the first inning when Sannem and McDowell walked, and MacKay bunted them onward. The Aggies are ranked seventh for a reason, and to beat them demands perfection. Base running errors lead to a sloppy double-play, ending momentum instantaneously.
The Aggies scored first in the second inning by all intents, putting in the in-field following a single and double. The 1-0 lead by the Aggies, again, was due to incongruent defensive sets.
The 1-0 set was immediately tied in the third with McDowell and MacKay establishing a scoring opportunity for Davis. However, two outs early in the inning left no room for error, even as Carter’s line drive was caught, inches away from starting a string of success.
Failure to finish against another top seven team resulted in a 6-3 loss for the Bobcats. They reveled at moments but lack the finishing finesse to score without being brick-walled with mistakes in the way; eight batters left on base while MacKay (a power hitter) being the only strike out epitomize the fact the Bobcats failed to captilize. And while Rupp did allow six runs, four of those came on one pitch in the third when Ashley Walters finished glanced a three-run homerun.
Until the resiliency comes on every single pitch, finishing hitting streaks with RBIs, the Bobcats will be a good team, with potential left to be great.
Finishing Against the West
On Sunday morning, the opportunity existed to prove resilience one more time against the Utah Utes. The offense instead turned sour, swinging wildly and appearing betrayingly tired. They completely failed to string together hits or be patient at the plate, striking out a collective of nine times with only one walk.
There is no advanced analytical or subliminal point to this game; the Bobcats simply failed to execute on the baseline. The best opportunities arose in the sixth and seventh inning after a Davis hit and Sannem walking on an eight-pitch battle. Unfortunately, Ortiz went down swinging after another seven-pitch battle. The seventh inning saw better plate confidence, with each batter going for eight, six and five pitches respectively. Yet, there is no award for merely making pitchers uncomfortable.
Fryar’s start on Sunday was even more bereft of longevity. Despite positive starts earlier in the weekend, she lasted 2.1 innings after giving up three hits and the only run in the third inning. Rupp came in to stop the bleeding and hold the score to one. However, it was a day in which Rupp needed to rest; more or less, nothing went as planned for Texas State and they were unable to adjust, losing 1-0.
The 14-7 Bobcats return to Bobcats Stadium to play the 2-7 Houston Baptist Huskies on Wednesday at 6 p.m. On Saturday, the Bobcats play in their first Sun Belt series against Georgia State in Atlanta. While the team has showed moments of athleticism and focus, with Sun Belt play on the docket, the simple mistakes and leaving runners on base must end. Sun Belt play implicates the demand for consistency, less potentially memorable moments be left as “what if.”
Featured image by Marina Bustillo-Mendoza.