HOUSTON, TX- Coming into the Saturday night matchup between Rice and TCU, we were expecting an encore performance of the Luken Baker Show that was put on in Fort Worth last weekend against Loyola Marymount.
And get a show we did, as the strapping righty not only threw six shutout innings against the Owls, giving up four hits and no walks with seven strikeouts, but he also launched a mammoth home run that rattled up around the railroad tracks and light standard beyond left field. Both were instrumental in his team’s seven-inning 10-0 win.
His head coach, Jim Schlossnagle, had high praise for him afterward.
“I thought he did a really good job of throwing all three pitches for strikes. He has a good arm and he can run his fastball into the mid-90s, but he’s a better pitcher than he is a power pitcher. They were swinging early in the count and I think he did a good job of taking advantage of their aggressiveness.
“As a hitter, he obviously got into a ball pretty good there. He’s the same kind of hitter that he is a pitcher. He’s not just a power guy. I was glad for him, in his hometown, on this stage, against a great program, to play the way he did,” he said.
It was a good enough day in both facets that Baker had to hesitate for a beat before answering when asked if it was a better day for him on the mound or at the plate, and even then, he was less than certain.
“Probably on the mound because I sustained it six innings. I felt real good up there, but I don’t know, I guess that’s up to other people to decide,” he said.
But to focus solely on what Baker accomplished wouldn’t be fair to the rest of the TCU offense, which picked up right where they left off after yesterday’s win 7-1 win over Louisiana-Lafayette. Make no mistake about it, this TCU offense looks the part of a deep, dangerous bunch that will win their team a lot of games, which is particularly important while assumed staff ace Mitchell Traver is out with injury.
Coming out of Saturday’s game, the Horned Frogs are hitting .328 as a team, led by Elliott Barzilli and his ridiculous .696/.708/1.043 slash line. It’s not often that a guy goes 2-for-3, as Barzilli did against Rice (including an impressive home run of his own), and has his average drop, but that’s what happens when you come into the game hitting .700. By comparison, the numbers for Dane Steinhagen (.381/.435/.619), Josh Watson (.333/.417/.619), and Connor Wanhanen (.320/.346/.400) look rather pedestrian, but by all measures, those guys are all off to torrid starts as well.
Schlossnagle is happy with where his lineup is right now, but what should frighten every opposing Big 12 program is that he is convinced they’re only going to get better as Nolan Brown gets healthy and returns to being able to swing the bat.
“I love our lineup and we still don’t have our most explosive offensive player in our center fielder Nolan Brown,” he said. “There’s some depth in there. I feel like we can score at any time. There’s some power, there’s some speed. I know we’re known for pitching, and I hope we can continue to do that, but this is a good offensive club. I really like where we are.”
Along with Arkansas, who has put up a similarly impressive offensive display through the first two days of the tournament, the TCU offensive explosion has been one of the bigger surprises to come out of the event.
With Luken Baker’s star power shining through already and the offense clicking on all cylinders, the Horned Frogs look poised to make another run at the Big 12 title and a third straight trip to Omaha.