Texas State gets back to winning ways
Bobcat pitchers threw more than 57 consecutive shutout innings
Expectations are high for Texas State baseball this year.
And why shouldn’t they be? The Bobcats have advanced to two of the last three NCAA tournaments, won three consecutive Southland Conference regular season titles, and have an experienced group including six position starters and two-thirds of their rotation returning from last year’s team that tied a program record with 41 victories.
It was kind of a no-brainer when the Southland Conference coaches voted Texas State as the league’s preseason favorite.
Yes, success was expected, but the run the Bobcats have put together in the last couple weeks has definitely turned some heads in baseball circles.
Since a disappointing 2-3 start to the season, Texas State has strung seven consecutive wins, surrendering just three total runs during the stretch.
Beginning with a 6-1 win against Houston on Feb. 25, the Bobcats posted 57 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings, which included five consecutive shutouts, until a 3-2 walk-off win against Rice on March 6. The streak was just 6.1 innings shy of the NCAA record of 64 consecutive scoreless innings set by Arizona State in 1972. The span included two wins against Houston, a 1-0 defeat of No. 18 TCU, a sweep of Notre Dame and a one-run win against No. 4 Rice.
“A lot of people would like to say, ‘well, what kind of competition did this stretch happen against?’” head coach Ty Harrington said. “You look at those teams and they are Houston, TCU, Notre Dame and Rice … those are very high-level baseball programs. For it to be done against those kinds of programs is amazing.
“There are so many factors that have to go into this. An error there or a walk and a blooper and somebody scores … that didn’t happen. We made the pitches and the defensive plays when we had to.”
The pitching staff has been consistently good even in the Bobcats’ three losses of the season, two of which were by one run. In the 5-1 setback to No. 25 Baylor, one four-run inning was the staff’s only hiccup.
“In the other games we’ve played, with the exception of one inning against Baylor, our guys have thrown incredibly,” Harrington said. “Every moment we’ve been out there they’ve given us a chance to win.”
“The guys that are out on the mound are really confident throwing strikes and getting out of tough situations,” Friday night starter and junior left-hander Colton Turner said.
None of the pitchers involved in the scoreless streak -- Turner, Travis Ballew, Kyle Finnegan or Mitchell Pitts -- have ever been drafted, but developed by the Texas State system and pitching coach Derek Matlock. On the season, the quartet has an 8-1 record and 1.16 ERA, while averaging 10.01 strikeouts per nine innings.
“It’s a product of our pitching coach Derek Matlock and the plan of development for our pitchers, and it is a group of pitchers that are motivated and inspired, but that are also good,” Harrington said. “You put the two forces and you can create opportunities like this.”
The Bobcats’ pitching staff has taken on the motto of bending but not breaking, and so far, they have stuck to that ideal.
“You might bend a little bit within an inning, but you don’t break and allow big numbers to come up,” Harrington said. “They have been able to slow the game down in its’ biggest moments.”
“We have a very tough mentality,” Turner said. “Everybody believes in that motto 100 percent. You can definitely see it when a guy gets on the mound and gives up a hit or something. He doesn’t get scared in the moment, but buckles down and goes after the next hitter.”
Texas State’s offense has been average, batting .262 to begin the season, but the Bobcat hitters have come through in big moments while the pitchers kept them in games. One of the most significant at bats was senior second baseman Tyler Sibley’s two-run walk-off single to upend Rice last Tuesday. The Bobcats were trailing 2-1 going into the bottom of the ninth inning.
“It’s a great momentum boost early in the season,” senior first baseman Casey Kalenkosky said. “Our pitchers kept us in the game and we knew we would. It is a good confidence builder knowing we’re never out of the game.”
Texas State heads to UT-Arlington this weekend to open the conference schedule, followed by a tilt at Texas on March 13.