'Jacks start final week of regular season with showdown at No. 13 TCU

'Jacks start final week of regular season with showdown at No. 13 TCU

SFA Athletics

NACOGDOCHES, TX (Press Release)- Entering the final week of its 2016 regular season, the Stephen F. Austin baseball team aims to put an end to a two-game losing streak when they head to No. 13-ranked TCU - the alma mater of 'Jacks head coach Johnny Cardenas - for a Tuesday night game. First pitch is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at Lupton Stadium.

Probable Starters
#22 Eric Polivka, SFA (Sr., LHP, 2-2, 6.21 ERA) vs. #11 Dalton Horton, TCU (Fr., LHP, 7-0, 2.44 ERA)

Scouting the Horned Frogs • Roster • Schedule • Statistics
Head Coach | Jim Schlossnagle (Elon, '92)
Year/at TCU | 15th/13th
Record/at TCU | 627-297 (.679)/550-250 (.688)
Synopsis | Fewer than 48 hours after salvaging a 7-3 win in the finale of a three-game Big 12 series at Baylor, the Horned Frogs commence the final week of their 2016 regular season with a four-game homestand. In search of its first home win in May 2016, TCU is once again amongst the top teams in all of NCAA Division I baseball by sitting at 13th in the latest version of the weekly polls. In addition to Tuesday serving as TCU's second May home game, it will be skipper Jim Schlossnagle's first at Lupton Stadium since securing his 550th win as the Horned Frogs' head coach on Sunday. With that historical benchmark in hand, Schlossnagle will send freshman left-hander Dalton Horton to the mound in an attempt for the ace to pick up his eighth victory of 2016, too. Horton's wins have been easy to come by due in large part to TCU's prowess at the plate this season. The Horned Frogs rank among the top 30 teams in the land in batting average (.305, 27th), scoring (7.4 runs/game, 22nd), doubles per game (2.19, 24th), walks (242, 25th), and on-base percentage (.402, 20th). Helping to create those high numbers are six .300 or better hitters that comprise the Horned Frogs' regular lineup led by batter who possesses the nation's 78th-best batting average in Elliott Barzilli. Along with his fourth-best in the Big 12 swinging clip of .371, Barzelli has collected a team-best 66 hits and is one of six TCU players who have totaled 30 or more RBI in 2016. Evan Skoug (.299/.403/.520) has more extra-base hits (24) than any other TCU player and his 40 RBI are just three off of Luken Baker's (.341/.458/.472) 43 for the team lead. Both Barzelli and Skoug have hit seven homers, putting them three behind club pace-setter Josh Watson (.277/.401/.538)     who has hammered 10 round trippers in 2016 – the third-most in the Big 12.

Series History
Overall vs. TCU | 4-10 (.286)
In Nacogdoches, Texas | 1-3 (.250)
In Fort Worth, Texas | 3-6 (.333)
Last Meeting | TCU won, 14-4, in Nacogdoches, Texas (4/29/14)
Last 10 Games | 2-8 (.200)
Cardenas vs. TCU | 2-2 (.500)
Schlossnagle vs. Stephen F. Austin | 3-2 (.600)
With four games under his belt against his former collegiate squad, SFA head coach Johnny Cardenas has collected two of SFA's four all-time wins against the Horned Frogs on the diamond. Both of Cardenas' victories over TCU have taken place in Fort Worth and occurred in consecutive showdowns with the Horned Frogs – one on March 30, 2011 and the next coming on April 10, 2013. That two-game SFA winning streak was terminated by the Horned Frogs by way of a 14-4 TCU win in Nacogdoches on April 29, 2014.

Streaking in the Southland
Since April 22, the 'Jacks have put together their hottest stretch in Southland Conference play since 2011. SFA has won six-straight SLC games – three apiece against Abilene Christian and McNeese – in addition to two out of three against Incarnate Word to move up from 10th place to sixth in the league standings with three tilts remaining on its regular season league slate. With a win in its next Southland Conference game, SFA would match a program record for consecutive SLC wins with seven, matching a 2008 squad that captured seven SLC victories in a row from April 25-May 9 of that season.

Southland Situation
Three conference games remain for the 'Jacks, but their inclusion in the Southland Conference Tournament is still up in the air. Tied with New Orleans for the fifth spot and a 14-13 league record, the 'Jacks magic number now stands at two and can almost assure themselves a place in the postseason with one win over Lamar.

First Time for Everything
Already the team's leader in appearances coming into last week's series at Southeast Missouri State, freshman Austin Hearn registered his first collegiate win in the 'Jacks series opener at the Redhawks. The first-year man's record now stands at 1-0 and Hearn has made a team-high 23 appearances. In these showings, he has tossed 34.1 innings and has fanned 23 while issuing only nine walks.

Nearly Natural
Providing almost 100-percent of the offense for the 'Jacks in their series opening win at Southeast Missouri State, junior Conner Fikes nearly accomplished something that has happened only 13 times in the history of the MLB. The Rowlett, Texas, product finished 3-for-4 at the plate and hit a single, a double and a triple in that order to finish a home run shy of a natural cycle. Fikes stole home plate in the seventh, too, to tie the game at two before Zac Michcner won it in the ninth by coming home on a wild pitch.

Big Upsets vs. Big 12
In two of their only other four games against Big 12 institutions this season, the 'Jacks emerged victorious. The first of SFA's 2016 wins over a Big 12 program was a dramatic one as Tyler Kendrick capped a four-run comeback in the 10th inning with a two-run single up the middle to push the game-winning runs across in the 'Jacks 5-4 win over the then-number seven ranked Cowboys on February 21. Continuing his streak of successes against the Big 12, Kendrick struck for an RBI infield single in the fifth, pushing the eventual game winning run across in SFA's 6-5 victory at Kansas State back on March 15.

The Hits Just Keep on Comin'
Multiple hit games have not been an oddity for the 'Jacks as six players on SFA's roster have 10 or more. That list is headlined by Garrett McMullen and his 20 multi-hit outings followed by Kyle Thornell's 19. From there, the list goes Conner Fikes (18), Zac Michener (17), Tyler Kendrick (15) and Nick Ramos (11). No SFA player has more four-hit games than Kendrick's three.

Bat-tery Pack
As a team, the 'Jacks are hitting .304 – the second-best average in the Southland Conference and the 31st-highest among all NCAA Division I baseball squads this season. SFA also ranks tops in the conference in slugging percentage (.450), runs (355) and second in hits (537) On the national scene, their totals in the hits and runs categories are 30th and 37th-highest respectively.

Taking One for the Team
Already the nation's ninth-toughest player to strike out, junior Conner Fikes has hit the eleventh-most sacrifice flies (seven) among all NCAA Division I baseball players in 2016. Getting the runs in however possible, Fikes ranks first among SFA regulars with a .374 batting average and has fanned only nine times in 182 at-bats.

Flavor of the Weeks
Senior Kyle Thornell collected back-to-back Southland Conference Hitter of the Week awards – one on May 2, the other on April 25 – following a monstrous stretch at the plate. The Magnolia, Texas, product batted .600 and slugged at a rate of 1.400 in a 4-0 week in which he led the 'Jacks to a sweep of Abilene Christian on the road and a home victory over Louisiana Monroe. He belted home runs in three straight games that week, but those numbers were nothing compared to the week prior. The senior hammered three three-run home runs, leading the 'Jacks to a series win over Incarnate Word. Through that series, his slash line was an absurd .667/.833/2.167.

Up Next
In a rare Thursday, Friday, Saturday series, the 'Jacks return to Jaycees Field in an attempt to punch their postseason ticket by hosting Lamar in the final three regular season Southland Conference games for both squads. Thursday's series opener is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m.