Bobcat Baseball Looking to Rise Over Sun Belt Rival South Alabama

By Alexander Haynes
Sports Reporter

A sudden twist of urgency arose from the Texas State baseball team over the weekend in a sweep of the Georgia State Panthers – an eventful series which demanded that the team string together hits, fight back in overtime, and overcome a variety of pitchers. The urgency flowed over into a Tuesday night battle with the Texas A&M Aggies. However, after 11 hits, five runs, and only striking out five times, the Bobcats fell 5-7. The demand now halfway through the month of April is to maintain that urgency against Sun Belt rival South Alabama, a team who swept the Bobcats last season and finished with a 22-8 conference record. This year, the Jaguars are on the same pace, standing at 10-4 in conference and 21-13 overall. Beating the Jaguars may demand the craftiest play on the season, but the task is not entirely impossible thanks to the recent urgency.

South Alabama Jaguars Roster

The Jaguars seem to always be in a game, even when down, there is a veteran prose of situational understanding epitomized in their top hitters. Beginning with Travis Swaggerty, hitting at a 1.075 on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS), the team has put together a plus 45 run differential while averaging 6.79 runs per game. As a conjoining point, the NCAA average to win a game is six runs per game, hence why the Jaguars are in every game.

Swaggerty’s 27 runs batted in (RBI) are joined by Wells Davis and Brendan Donovan at 35 and 34 RBIs respectively. Those three are the quintessential for completing on-base plays, totaling 180 total bases. Each one has an uncanny ability to send pitches deep into left or right field. Swaggerty has six doubles, Donovan 10, and Davis another six.

If those numbers do not quantify the power embodied within the team, the homeruns add another factor – Swaggerty has nine, Donovan three, and Davis six. Isolating their power (slugging percentage minus batting average or ISO) is an analytic to reveal just how potent a batter is: Swaggerty: .237; Donovan: .173; Davis: .214 – all above average.

Bluntly put, the Jaguars have a rare luxury with three cleanup hitters in the lineup. Even if they do not hit for power, the trio can infuriate opponents with walks; Swaggerty a 1.68 walk to strikeout (BB/K) ratio, Donovan 1.15 BB/K, and Wells 1.14 BB/K.

The power is complemented by Dylan Hardy, whose 15 base steals on 16 attempts only adds more pressure onto the Jaguars’ opponent. If Hardy pressures a young pitcher on the base path, then that only increases the chances one of the power hitters can tee off on a nervous pitch. Hardy is also incredibly proficient at getting on the base path on his own with a team-leading 47 hits.

While the other hitters may not be as verbose, they complete the Jaguars’ roster in a subtle fashion. Paul Russo has brought in 36 hits and Hunter Stokes another 26 in only 90 plate appearances.

The top end of the pitching staff delivers the same type of brilliant force to the game. Starter Tyler Carr and reliever Jared Proctor are the two pitchers who have dominated the season. Carr’s 3.45 earned run average (ERA) with six wins in his nine starts have been essential to resting a marginal bullpen. His biggest accomplishment is pitching straight forward without walking opponents – a 3.23 K/BB ratio – and cleaning up the base path when hitters do get on base. His one weakness is creating a sharp output in strikeouts with only 6.22 strikeouts per nine innings (K/9), opting to force more ground outs and fly outs.

Proctor is the willy reliever, having pitched 23.1 innings at 10.1 K/9 – a truly ferocious rate. He holds a 1.93 ERA with only seven runs on the season. He has even started three games, although, in abbreviated fashion.

Zach Greene, Chase Shell, and Zach Melton complete the list of most used pitchers. However, they do not hold the functional strength of Proctor or Carr. Melton has allowed one hit, .9 walks, .9 strikeouts, and .9 runs per one inning. Shell has a higher 9.78 K/9, but pitches straight to hit zones without much deception, ending most of his outings with several runs earned (6.65 ERA). Greene is more apt for the closer role with three saves – partial to his fiery 12.15 K/9 that blow down batters in one or two innings. Yet, over the middle span of a game, that fire results in hitters keying on his fastball.

Matchup Outlook

The Texas State batters have been riding a wave of urgency over the past four games that has involved fun and relaxing hits. This would be a minimized notion if the team was able to get onto base with regular effort, but even their walk to strikeout rate as a team is depressing (.68 BB/K). Whether it was the Georgia State pitchers or true comfort at the plate, the settling down into the batter’s box was incredible to watch.

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Pitcher Wes Engle winds up for one of his fiery pitches. Engle is part of a staff that can shine against South Alabama thanks to their confidence, a mentality that can continue the Bobcats recent success. Photo by Marina Bustillo-Mendoza.

The battle against South Alabama will be high scoring. Even if Connor Reich, Zachary Leigh and Nicholas Fraze begin the game with power, the bull pen has lacked variety in their pitching. Fraze and Reich specifically can get through two rotations clean due to the fact they utilize both breaking and fastball pitches. However, the bull pen is common place for the NCAA, being a pack of straight fastball pitchers. That lack of variety means seeing one pitcher is essentially seeing them all.

Thus, the onus is on the batting lineup to slowly chip away foul balls, then push those foul balls to hits. In a reverse concept, Jonathan Ortega, Dylan Paul and Derek Schieble punching fouls early let Jacob Almendarez, Jaylen Hubbard and Luke Sherley begin hit streaks. As the innings lagged longer and longer, the top of the rotation was able to join back in the fight and churn the hits as well. There was a just balance of power and precision.

Again, the magic number in the NCAA is six runs. If the Bobcat power hitters can hit three homeruns over the weekend, shaking the fastball relievers of South Alabama, then they can turn the narrative on the season.

The series against South Alabama, while representing Sun Belt competition, brings the necessitation to turn the season around. The fact bears repeating and closing with: this is a must win series, in which two wins would continue the individual players finding a groove, potentially tying the Bobcats for the West Division lead.

Featured image by Marina Bustillo-Mendoza.

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