Solid pitching performances and timely hitting powered the Horned Frogs past Cal State-Fullerton on Saturday in Fort Worth to even the teams’ season-opening weekend series at one apiece.
In just his second career start, sophomore Steven Maxwell cruised through seven innings for the Frogs (1-1), giving up just two runs off four hits and setting a career-high with five strikeouts in the 4-2 win. Junior Matt Vern added two hits and scored two runs, one of them in the first after he knocked in a run on an RBI single and stole home on a passed ball.
“The difference in the game was the way we pitched today versus the way we pitched yesterday,” Head coach Jim Schlossnagle said. “We executed two things – we got some timely hits and (our guys) pitched lights out.”
The Horned Frogs used three pitchers to hold the Titans at bay, with sophomore Tyler Lockwood throwing a perfect eighth and junior closer Andrew Cashner slamming the door in the ninth, earning the save in his first collegiate appearance.
Maxwell said he was at ease heading into the game, but getting an early lead gave him added confidence.
“I felt good with the fastball, kept it down and was getting ahead of everybody – that was big today,” said Maxwell, who improves to 1-0 on the season and 2-0 in his career. “I was real comfortable going into the game, but when your team does something like (getting an early lead) it adds so much more confidence in the situation. You just go out and put yourself on cruise control.”
Schlossnagle said the seven innings Maxwell worked is what he likes to see from his starters.
“He pitched ahead in the count and he had an outstanding breaking ball,” Schlossnagle said. “When you do that, you keep them off balance enough and that’s a really good team he pitched against.”
In addition to good pitching, Schlossnagle said the team has to scratch out runs to be successful.
“We don’t have a lot of team power, and especially in this ballpark, on a warm day the wind blows in out of the south so much,” Schlossnagle said. “Our (identity) is to play the short game, play professional defense and hope for a timely hit.”
Vern said the team’s offensive goal is to put pressure on the defense by playing an aggressive style of offense.
“That’s what we’ve built our team around this year – just guys who put the ball in play and hit the ball hard,” Vern said. “Understanding we don’t play in a real forgiving park, we just have to play our game and hit line drives.”
Vern got the scoring underway for the Frogs in the first as he drove home Clint Arnold from second with an RBI single, advancing to second on the throw. After junior third baseman Matt Carpenter moved Vern to third with a groundout to the right side, Vern scored on a wild pitch to make the score 2-0.
The Frogs added to their lead in the bottom of the fifth after junior second baseman Ben Carruthers singled and scored on a passed ball, and Carpenter drove Vern in on a sac fly.
Though Maxwell held the team at bay through five, Cal State-Fullerton (1-1) answered in the top of the sixth with a two-run home run by Erik Komatsu, his second of the series and his sixth and seventh RBI.
“He hit a low outside fastball. It was a mistake on my behalf because I knew he had been hitting the low ball pretty well,” Maxwell said. “I probably should have elevated it a little bit or kept throwing the curve ball, which worked pretty well against him.”
Maxwell settled down to pitch one more inning for the Frogs before Lockwood and Cashner worked two innings of scoreless baseball.
The Frogs are hoping to make a name for themselves by beating national powerhouse teams like Cal State-Fullerton, Vern said.
“It’s good to get an opportunity like this. I have all the respect in the world for a team like Cal State-Fullerton and it’s good to compete with these guys,” Vern said. “We’re going to see guys like these in the postseason, but we want to prove that we’re as good as these guys and we can play with them.”
The teams will meet again for the rubber match of the series Sunday at 1 p.m. The Frogs will host Dallas Baptist at Brown-Lupton Stadium on Tuesday, while the Titans will return home to face Loyola Marymount.