The situation looked like a total disaster.
Texas State had bases loaded with one out and the score tied at 4 in the bottom of the ninth inning in its March 1 matchup against Texas. To make matters worse, the Longhorns had a freshman pitcher on the hill tasked with preserving the delicate stalemate.
That pitcher, Chase Shugart, was not fazed.
The freshman induced a pair of groundouts to send the game to extra innings and help give Texas an eventual 10-4, 11–inning victory.
“Nothing surprises me with Chase,” said Chad Landry, Shugart’s coach at Bridge City High School. “To be honest with you, he’s been getting in and out of that stuff his whole career. We’ve become accustomed to it.”
Unfortunately, Shugart’s season took a downward turn after that. Head coach Augie Garrido continued to put the flamethrower into tough situations, but Shugart was not always able to come through.
Shugart struggled in his next appearance, blowing a five-run ninth-inning lead against California and surrendering three runs two appearances later against UCLA.
“Working through that rough patch, I had to keep telling myself to be myself,” Shugart said. “I started trying to get to fancy with my pitches, and then I lost control of them, and then I didn’t have any confidence in what I was throwing.”
The early season struggles were an unfortunate blemish on the freshman’s stat line, but Shugart is no stranger to working hard and improving. He entered high school throwing in the low 80s but was able to add 10 mph to his fastball and 40 pounds to his frame, moving the scrawny freshman to full-grown Division 1 recruit.
Shugart also had a strong support group to help him through the rough patch. His grandparents, who drive up to Austin for every home series, were there to console him after the rough outings.
“That’s my mom and dad,” said Shugart, who was raised by his grandparents. “My mom and dad are still in my life. They’re involved. When people ask about me, people automatically think of my grandparents because that’s just who they are.”
The post-game consolations seem to have worked. Shugart has allowed just three runs in his last 13.1 innings pitched, resurrected his role as the high-pressure bullpen ace and started pitching like himself again.
“Attack, attack, attack,” pitching coach Skip Johnson said of his freshman pitcher. “He’ll remind you a little bit of [former Longhorn and retired major leaguer Chance] Ruffin. If he has that same career, it’s going to be fun to be around.”
Shugart possesses a blazing fastball and a knee-buckling hook, impressive tools for a freshman. And if he continues to work hard, he may just follow in Ruffin’s footsteps. Adding another 10 mph to his fastball though isn’t Shugart’s only goal looking forward.
“I don’t think I’ll be able to throw a 107-mile-an-hour fastball before I leave here,” Shugart said. “I want to be remembered as a team player who does what it takes to win and isn’t scared of anybody, isn’t scared of the moment, isn’t scared of what’s the task that’s ahead.”