COLLEGE STATION – TCU tries to stay alive in the NCAA tournament at 12:35 p.m. Saturday against Dayton at Blue Bell Park. The Flyers (31-29) lost 4-1 to Texas A&M Friday; the Horned Frogs fell to Ole Miss 6-2. The No. 7 Aggies meet the Rebels in the winners' bracket game at 6:35 p.m.
The Frogs (36-20) turn to right-hander Andrew Mitchell (5-3), who is coming off a disappointing performance at the Mountain West tournament. He started the season as TCU’s Friday night ace but has struggled at times this season. Flyers’ right-hander Tim Bury (8-2) didn’t make his first start until March 3, but the senior leads Dayton with a 3.14 ERA in 103 1/3 innings.
Dayton (31-29) likes to run, and run a lot. The Flyers lead the nation with 163 stolen bases and 849 total bases. Five players have more than 15 stolen bases, including shortstop Bryan Blasik who has 36 steals in 39 attempts.
The Frogs’ offense managed just five hits Friday against Ole Miss hurler Bobby Wahl. The bottom six hitters were a combined 1 for 20 with 10 strikeouts and reached base just twice. Both of those were by freshman Jerrick Suiter who had a single and was hit by a pitch.
But an offensive explosion is unlikely to happen. TCU pitchers have become used to an offense batting .266 and providing only a modicum of run support.
That puts the onus on Mitchell, who hasn’t looked sharp in his last two starts. He was roughed up last week against San Diego State at the MWC tournament. He surrendered six runs on eight hits in three innings. He has lasted seven innings only once this season, April 13 against Air Force. His last strong outing was also against Air Force May 12, when he struck out seven and held the Falcons to two hits. Mitchell’s most impressive recent start was May 6 when he held a great-hitting New Mexico team to three hits and struck out nine in 6 2/3 innings. That performance came two days after his start against the Lobos was stopped after one inning because of rain.
TCU is playing a Dayton team in its first NCAA tournament with few expectations and nothing to lose. The Frogs were ranked No. 15 in Baseball America’s preseason national rankings and were still in the Top 20 last week. Several Frogs, including catcher Josh Elander and outfielder and Kyle Von Tungeln, are trying to extend what could likely be their final seasons. Seniors Brance Rivera, Davy Wright and injured Jason Coats are also staring at the end of their TCU careers.
The Flyers, with 10 seniors, feel a similar urgency.
“We have 10 seniors so every pitch is important for them and the guys behind them will play very hard,” Dayton coach Tony Vittorio said. “We need more quality at bats [Saturday] so we’ll be fighting for quality at bats to get on base and get back to our running game. We’re excited about [Saturday] and putting a little more pressure on TCU.”
Scharf sets record
TCU pitcher Justin Scharf made his 34th appearance this season, breaking Jeff Baker's 1994 record of 33 in a season. Scharf (2-2, 3 saves), a transfer from Paris Junior College, has been excellent in his first year with the Frogs, posting a 2.97 ERA in 39 1/3 innings.
-- Stefan Stevenson