Baseball readies for big week
March 8, 2011
ARLINGTON, Tex. - Chad Comer knows what it takes to knock off the big boys. Whether it's Texas or Oklahoma or Wichita State or Baylor or Texas A&M, the easygoing fifth-year senior catcher from Mansfield has walked off the diamond victorious against those powerhouses over his career.
But there's one program that sticks Comer's craw. One that he's yet to beat since arriving at UT Arlington in 2007. One that he gets another crack at Tuesday night down the road in Fort Worth.
"I have not won against TCU in my entire time here," Comer said Monday. "Last year, I wasn't sure if I was coming back [for this season] and our last game against them was so close and we lost. Well, I came back and I really want to beat those guys both times we play them this year.
"It's fun to play those teams when you know a lot of the guys. To beat TCU this year would be a little icing on the cake."
The Tuesday showdown between the Metroplex rivals is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. first pitch at TCU's Lupton Stadium. The Horned Frogs make the trek to Clay Gould Ballpark on March 15 to conclude the two-game season series.
The Mavericks are coming in hot, having won their last four to improve to 6-5. The eighth-ranked Horned Frogs are 7-4 and just swept a three-game set at Texas Tech. While rivalry games are always fun for the teams and fans involved, the Mavericks realize it's still a nonconference matchup on the eve of Southland Conference action. UTA hits the SLC slate Friday with a visit to Sam Houston State for a three-game series.
The Bearkats are traditionally one of the stronger programs in the SLC. Sam Houston is off to a 10-2 start, having beaten the likes of Tulane, Nebraska and Michigan.
Thomas isn't overlooking the Horned Frogs in order to prepare for the Bearkats, especially since TCU is the only program the Mavericks have played at least twice under his watch that they've yet to beat. And snapping the 14-game losing streak in the all-time series with the Horned Frogs would be nice, too.
But the coach in Thomas knows that setting up his rotation for the weekend and getting off to solid start in league play is crucial to fulfilling the Mavericks' own lofty goals for the season.
"It's always a big game when we play those guys," Thomas said of the Horned Frogs. "[TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle] has done a great job over there and they were preseason No. 1, so that adds some significance to it. But what we'll do is throw three of four guys and we don't want to burn anybody for the weekend."
Thomas is more than comfortable leaning on his bullpen against TCU - or anyone for that matter - so lining up the starters for the weekend becomes the priority. Lance Day (1-2, 3.15 ERA) will get of one of the three starts. Kasey Murke, Michael Oberto and Calan Pritchard are among the candidates for the other two spots.
"We really don't know who our starters are and that's fine because we've pitched so well out of the pen," said Thomas, who hopes to have the Sam Houston rotation ironed out by Wednesday.
The bats don't rate the same level of uncertainty - at least not lately. The Mavericks pounded out 36 runs over the last three games on 51 hits, including 14 for extra bases. Left fielder Ryan Walker, a true freshman from Arlington Martin, leads the squad with a .444 batting average. Second baseman Michael Guerra, right fielder Preston Beck and Comer are each hitting comfortably over .300.
"I feel like we're in a groove because we're controlling what we can control," Comer said. "The coaches have preached playing hard, playing fast and controlling what we can control. I've really noticed that we're doing that."
The Mavericks are a little banged up. Senior shortstop Jesse Payne (hamstring) and Opening Day starting pitcher Collin Reynolds (shoulder) - two players counted on heavily coming into the season - aren't expected to play this weekend.
"We've got a 33-game conference season," Thomas said. "We can't get caught up in the first three games and get those guys tweaked any worse to where we can't use them the rest of the year. It's a long haul."