TCU’s Purke no ordinary freshman

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AUSTIN, Texas – Texas coach Augie Garrido is the winningest coach in college baseball history and has seen a lot of great pitching performances. He also has seen plenty of freshmen rise to the occasion in big-time situations.

But Garrido, who began coaching college baseball in 1969, has never seen a freshman pitcher perform on a big stage quite like TCU left-handed pitcher Matt Purke did on Friday. Purke allowed just one run and struck out 11 in 7 2/3 innings of work as TCU beat Texas 3-1 to take a 1-0 series lead in the Austin Super Regional.

When asked if he had seen a performance like Purke’s in the past, Garrido’s response was telling to say the least.

“Not that I can recall,” Garrido said. “I didn’t have many thoughts of what he might look like by looking at the statistics. But all that he has accomplished at such an early stage in his career, it obviously has to be something special.”

Plenty of observers at UFCU Disch-Falk Field had an idea of what to expect from Purke, though. That especially was the case with everyone in the TCU dugout.

Photo TCU freshman pitcher Matt Purke is beyond his years both in ability and demeanor.
(USPW)

Purke may be a freshman by classification, but his pitching ability and mind are light years ahead of most first-year players.

Perhaps that’s why so many experts were shocked when Purke went to college in the first place.

The fact Purke is in college at TCU and playing Texas in the Austin Super Regional is amazing to begin with.

After putting together a sensational senior campaign at Klein High School outside of Houston last spring, professional scouts were salivating at the idea of being able to draft Purke and put him on the fast track in the minors. He is, after all, a slender left-hander with exceptional stuff.

When the MLB draft arrived last summer, the Texas Rangers drafted him as the 14th overall pick in the first round. From the start, it seemed like Purke was destined to make millions and sign with his home-state team. The signs certainly pointed that direction.

The Rangers threw some lucrative money at him, but TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle remained confident all the way up to the August 16 deadline. There was a reason for the veiled confidence.

Purke and the Rangers were unable to get a deal done and the lefty arrived on campus for fall workouts much to the surprise of many.

Purke had a fruitful fall for the Horned Frogs, and there was little doubt from Schlossnagle’s end that he was ready for Division-I baseball. No matter the quality of pitcher, though, there is always skepticism about an incoming freshman and his ability to make a quick transition.

The hype surrounding Purke has been more than legit.

Purke pitched well in non-conference play and certainly fared well against Mountain West competition throughout the regular season. But his status as a pitcher at this level reached another level on Friday with his outing against the Longhorns.

Some curiosity filled the air when Schlossnagle opted to throw his young freshman in the series opener as opposed to more experienced starting pitchers such as Steven Maxwell and Kyle Winkler. Purke, though, was no freshman. He merely was a seasoned veteran posing as a freshman.

Purke started the afternoon in impressive fashion, striking out the side in the first inning and setting the tone for the afternoon with an animated fist pump that sent the TCU dugout and its fans into a frenzy.

“This was a really big situation, but I still focused on the same staff, and that’s going out and making good pitches. I can’t get caught up in the things outside of that,” Purke said. “I just went out there and did what I was taught all season long to do.”

Even though he fell behind in some counts throughout the game, there was no caving into the pressure for this youngster.

“In my first international experience, I threw for Team USA against Cuba in Venezuela, and those two countries don’t exactly like us very much. That atmosphere was loud and crazy, too,” he said. “Going through something like that really helped me block everything else today.”

Purke rose to the occasion and took care of business when the Horned Frogs needed him the most. And with Friday’s victory over the Longhorns, the Horned Frogs are a win away from notching the program’s first College World Series.

Just a year ago, Purke was a first round selection supposedly destined to sign with the Rangers and begin his professional career. Now the lefty has helped the Frogs take a first step ahead of the Longhorns on a quest to make school history and has 133 strikeouts in 103 innings of work.

He’s a freshman that has become the face of a rising program.

The Horned Frogs couldn’t be happier to have him.

Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Yahoo! Sports and Rivals.com. Follow him on Twitter and follow Yahoo! Sports College Baseball on Facebook. Send Kendall a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Saturday, Jun 12, 2010