By Jamie Plunkett
Frogs Today staff writer
ARLINGTON – There are opening day wins, and then there are opening day wins.
TCU performed the latter on Friday afternoon at Globe Life Field, taking down No. 10 Vanderbilt 11-4.
The Frogs capitalized in big moments, relying on their veteran leaders to come through when the situation called for them to do so. TCU scored 10 of their 11 runs with two outs, something TCU third baseman Brayden Taylor says has to do with their competitiveness.
“I think it’s awesome that we have a lot of competitive players,” Taylor said. “Guys that are not willing to give up on anything. I think our competitive mindset is what got us through that and it was awesome to see.”
That mindset showed up multiple times, including a big moment in the bottom of the sixth inning with the Frogs trailing 3-2.
With two runners on base and two outs, Austin Davis navigated his way through a seven pitch at bat to work a walk, loading the bases. Elijah Nunez, an Arlington native who played his high school ball just 10 miles from Globe Life Field, came through in the clutch.
On a full count, Nunez ripped a double down the right field line, clearing the bases and giving TCU a 5-3 lead. Big 12 Preseason Player of the Year Brayden Taylor was in the on deck circle, and had a front row view of the at bat.
“I have full faith in him, he’s such a clutch player,” Taylor said. “Solid person, solid player, and I knew he was going to come through. I was in the on deck circle like, ‘man, I’m going to get up this inning,’ because I was preparing for it, because I knew Eli was going to come through.”
Come through Nunez did, and Taylor did so too just moments later. On the second pitch of his at bat, Taylor hit a home run to right field, scoring Nunez and himself and pushing TCU’s lead to 7-3.
According to coach Kirk Saarloos, TCU’s preparedness set them up for success.
“I thought coach [T.J.] Bruce had them ready in terms of their plan, and they didn’t deviate from that,” Saarloos said. “Obviously we want to eliminate some of the strikeouts, but when you’re facing a first-round type arm that’s going to happen.”
TCU faced off against Commodores ace Carter Holton, displaying patience at the plate and working to run Holton’s pitch count up.
Holton, a 2022 unanimous freshman All American, walked two batters and hit two more in 3 2/3 innings of work, throwing 80 pitches and conceding two runs before coach Tim Corbin elected to go to the bullpen.
Kansas transfer Ryan Vanderhei got the start on the mound for the Frogs, flashing his high velocity fastball along with a newer, third pitch.
Saarloos and Vanderhei have spent this offseason working on a changeup, something TCU’s coach thought would allow Vanderhei to work later into games and keep hitters off balance. It was impressive on Friday, as Vanderhei used it to induce several big swings and misses, including two strikeouts to end the fifth inning.
“That was a huge pitch for him in the fall, and then in the spring,” Saarloos said. “That’s a third pitch for him, but it’s something we need to utilize because it’s really good. They took four or five bad swings on the changeup.”
“I thought it was a weapon,” Vanderhei said. “I love throwing it, throwing it late in counts, and I got a lot of good swing and misses with it today. It’s a pitch I like throwing, I’m very comfortable with it, and I’m excited to see how it plays for me throughout the year.”
TCU struck first thanks to a great at bat from Kurtis Byrne. Following back to back singles from Elijah Nunez and Brayden Taylor, Byrne fouled off several tough pitches before lofting a fly ball to right field. The fly out was deep enough to allow Nunez to score from third, putting TCU ahead 1-0.
Vanderbilt tied things up in the top of the second, using a combination of a hit batter, stolen base, sacrifice fly, and infield groundout to get the run across. The Commodores took the lead in the top of the third with a triple off the bat of Davis Diaz, followed by a sacrifice fly.
Tre Richardson leveled the score with a hard hit double to right field in the fourth inning, scoring David Bishop from second.
The Frogs got into some trouble in the sixth inning, beginning with Vanderhei hitting the leadoff batter. That ended his day, as Saarloos made the move to the bullpen, calling on River Ridings.
Ridings recorded two outs before walking a batter on four pitches, prompting another pitching change. Saarloos tabbed Luke Savage, who hit a batter to load the bases, then walked in the go-ahead run.
A fly out to Nunez ended the threat, but TCU found themselves behind 3-2.
Then came the five-run, two-out rally in the sixth, followed by a four-run, two out rally in the seventh.
Following a shut down inning from Savage, TCU found themselves with two runners on and two outs once again. Freshman shortstop Anthony Silva, who removed his name from the 2022 MLB Draft and elected to come to TCU, notched his first career hit as a Horned Frog.
Silva pulled a ball down the left field line for a double, scoring Luke Boyers and Cole Fontenelle. One batter later, Davis singled into right field to bring Silva around. Nunez kept the train rolling, singling into center field and scoring Davis, giving the Frogs an 11-3 lead.
Vanderbilt got one run back in the ninth inning, thanks to a solo home run from Jonathan Vastine, but Savage didn’t allow for any more shenanigans, inducing a ground out and a foul out from the next two hitters to close out the victory.
The Horned Frogs take on No. 8 Arkansas on Saturday at 7pm at Globe Life Field. Junior Cam Brown will get the start for TCU, while Will McEntire will start on the mound for the Razorbacks.
“They’ve had our number for a while,” Saarloos said. “It goes all the way back to the Southwest Conference. They’ve had TCU’s number. We have to be ready to play tomorrow. Will McEntire is going to be like a typical Arkansas pitcher. He’ll fill it up with a good breaking ball, and we’ll have to be ready to go with a good plan.”
Jamie Plunkett, email@example.com