When everything is on the line, it's often said, "it's not how you start, it's how you finish". Half an inning in the books, and TCU was hoping that old adage rang true for them.
Mitchell Traver took the mound for the Frogs, fresh off a behemoth performance against TAMU, which saw him earn a win with a near perfect performance. The big righty seemed just a little to amped early, as he surrendered a long fly ball to Alex Bregman to open play, but it hung up enough for an out. Traver would then walk the second batter he faced - after a 12 pitch at bat - and see him take second on a steal one pitch later. A single through the right side would score the run, and Mitchell was laboring. Two fly outs later and he was out of the inning, but with a 1-0 deficit and a high pitch count.
The Frogs singled in the bottom of the inning, but couldn't do anything with Fagnan on first - a questionable called third strike on Connor Wanhanen would lead to a strike 'em out, throw 'em out, with Fagnan getting gunned down at second on the play. But Traver settled down in the top of the second, getting a 1-2-3 inning and his first strike out of the game, to calm things down for TCU.
The bottom of the second saw the TCU offense wake up after double digit scoreless innings, as Evan Skoug would open with a single, and Jeremy Fagnan would follow with a base knock of his own. With runners at first and second, Derek Odell worked a walk, and the Frogs were in a bases loaded situation with no outs. For TCU, that squandered so many RISP opportunities against Vanderbilt, and hit in to four double plays against LSU on Tuesday, the normally positive situation probably felt a little worrisome. Nolan Brown struck out to further the drama, but Keaton Jones battled back from 0-2 to work a walk, scoring the Frog's first run of the game. That brought up Garrett Crain with the inning, and possibly the game, on the line. To this point, Crain was 0 for Omaha, but LSU had seen enough of Person, and called for Hunter Newman to face the number nine hitter. One pitch later, Garrett ripped a single through the right side, giving TCU a 3-1 lead. Cody Jones, another hitless in Nebraska Horned Frog, would strike out to end the inning, but TCU had the monkey off their back and three runs on the board.
Traver struck out the first batter he faced in the top of the third, but the Tiger's first round draft pick (#2 overall) Alex Bregman beat out a ball hit to Keaton Jones to open play with a single. A Fraley triple scored LSU's second run of the game, and Fraley would come home on a passed ball to tie the game. Traver would end the threat with a strikeout, but with his pitch count climbing, Frog fans started to look towards the bullpen, waiting to see who might get the call next.
A Connor Wanhanen single to open the third put the Frogs back in business, but the LSU left fielder made an outstanding play at the wall to rob Skoug of extra bases one batter later. Wanny was gunned down at second on a steal attempt with a perfect throw, and Steinhagen struck out looking two pitches later. With the game knotted at threes, Traver came back out for his fourth inning of work. Traver is an interesting case... a third year junior who battled back through multiple injuries just to get on the mound this season. At 6'7" with a mid 90's fastball, he was highly recruited out of high school before TOS caused his senior season to be cut short. Despite being a late round draft pick after an incredible bounce back year, Traver has already announced his intention to return to TCU, and has a chance to be the ace for a squad that should be looking to reload, not rebuild, in 2016. After opening the frame with a K, Traver walked Chinea, and that would be the end of his night. Schloss made the call to the pen, and another lanky vet jogged out; it was be up to Trey Teakell, pitching for the second time this series, to save the day, and the season. With a runner on, Trey buckled down, and got out of the inning without damage.
I must say... Trey might be the guy I miss the most next year. I can wax poetic over Preston Morrison and his brilliance on the mound, and it has been a joy and an honor to see Keaton Jones at short stop for four straight years. Derek Odell epitomizes the growth of a college player, both on and off the diamond, Garrett Crain is steady and has put some pop in the nine spot from time to time, and Cody Jones is as good a player as we have had in the outfield and at the plate, and watching him run the bases is as much fun as seeing him jack one out of the park. But Teakell... tall, skinny as heck, and with the most humble of spirits, for a guy who doesn't get many stats, he has been as reliable and frankly as good, as any arm we have had. And he never asks to be noticed, just makes himself available however the team needs. You can't ask for more from a star who never asked to shine.
Derek Odell got absolutely robbed in the fourth, as #2 overall pick Alex Bregman would go deep in the hole behind second base, do a 360 degree spin, somehow maintain his target, and throw out the runner with ease. TCU couldn't get anything going after the stellar defensive play, and would go quietly in their half of the frame. Teakell stayed on as the teams headed to inning five, and open getting some help from his defense - Nolan Brown got a bad read on a fly ball that dropped quickly, and had to make a sliding catch to make out #1. Going back to what has worked for him, Trey got Fraley to groundout to Fagnan for out #2, and get a scoop strike from Odell for the third out of the frame. A quick 1-2-3 would put TCU in position to turn the tide in the bottom of inning number five. Cody Jones fired things up with a leadoff walk, and after a Fagnan strikeout, advanced to second on a balk. Wanny had a chance to knock one in with one out and a runner in scoring position, and after coming up 3-0, drew a walk. Skoug was next to bat fresh off of giving one a ride to the wall, and with two on and one down, the lefty had a chance to break things open. LSU would take the chance to talk at the mound with Bain, respecting the ability of the freshman at the plate. For a team that has used pitching and senior leadership to get to this point, it's amazing to see how often it's the two freshman in the heard of the order that get the mojo going on offense. That would be true once again tonight, as Evan Skoug ripped a double down the first base line to plate CoJo. Wanhanen advanced to third as the throw in was good, but two on, one out, and LSU replaced Austin Bain with freshman Jake Godfrey. Godfrey fell behind Dane Steinhagen 3-1, and on pitch #5, Dane would blast a single to the right side, despite the fans in the stands flashing their cell phone lights without impunity. The hit scored two, and the Frogs grabbed a 6-3 lead. LSU would be forced to bring in a lefty to face Odell, bringing in Hunter Devall to try and stop the bleeding. He got bailed out some, as Steinhagen would get thrown out trying to advance on a thrown in the dirt - but a good play by Civicque and a better scoop at second by Bregman would prove more efficient than Dane's speed. Odell grounded out on the next pitch, but the Frogs had broken through for a 6-3 lead and carried all the momentum in to the final third of the game.
Teakell came back out for the top of the sixth, and the first pitch he through went up... and kept going... as Steinhagen drifted... and keep drifting, looking like he never really knew where the ball was until it hit his glove. Teakell got out number two swinging, and groundout to third ended the seventh in eight pitches. TCU sw the sixth LSU pitcher of the night and he was a good one - freshman Doug Norman got\t two strikeouts and a fancy behind the back catch to keep the Frogs in check for their half on the sixth. Teakell remained in the game to try and hold the lead for TCU in the seventh, and do a darn good job, getting three quick outs. TCU showed they can flash the leather a little too, as Fagnan made a nice scoop of a Keaton Jones throw from deep in the hole for out #3. The Frogs looked to add to their lead an inning later, as Cody Jones once again get on with a lead off walk, and Fagnan would bunt for a single. A Connor Wanhanen fielder's choice put runners at the corners for Skoug, and the Tigers looked to closer Parker Bugg to keep this a three run game. Skoug would use a little skill and a little luck to push run number seven across the board, as his weak chopper to the mound left Bugg with only a play at first. Dane Steinhagen used plain old good hitting to get another run, as his single up the middle got Connor Wanhanen home. An Odell fly out ended the inning, but two big runs would put a little distance between the Frogs and Tigers with the game winding down.
Unlike LSU, TCU was able to stick with what was working, as Teakell would come back out for the eighth inning. A long fly out by Bregman, and a nice play to cover the bag on a roller to Fagnan got him a quick two outs. That would end the big guy's night, as Schloss would give way for Preston Guillory, after 4.1 innings of no hit, 36 pitch work. That's just unbelievable. And his efficiency kept the door open for a return later in the weekend, if the Frogs could keep playing. Guilty got Civicque with a nasty breaking ball to end the eighth, taking what had been the Tiger's best hitter of the night out of play. A quick B8 for TCU gave way to the final chance for the Tigers, and one quick out later, it looked like their night was all but over. A little confusion between Odell, K Jones, and Steinhagen put a runner on second, as a catchable ball dropped in no man's land and was ruled a double. A second straight double scored a run for the Tigers, cutting the lead to 8-4 and sending Riley Ferrell out to the pen to warm up. A big strikeout for the second out of the frame would look to end the momentum, but a single with two down put runners at the corners and the tying run a batter away. Guillory would get one more shot to get out of the jam, and with LSU staying aggressive, a stolen base put another runner in scoring position. A nasty slider in the dirt would put Preston up 0-2, and a breaking ball would get the strikeout, the third out, and seal the game, sending the Tigers home from Omaha.
For tonight, TCU can celebrate winning another elimination game... for the fifth time this post season. But come Friday, they will need to do it all over again. Schloss will have options for the Friday night start - Tyler Alexander has yet to pitch in Omaha, and Preston Morrison will likely be available on short rest. Other than Trey Teakell and Alex Young, the rest of the arms should be raring to go. Vanderbilt with have a choice to make as well - Carson Fullmer last pitched Tuesday and first rounder Walker Beuhler has yet to pitch in the College World Series. For Tim Corbin, the dilemma is to you pitch your best guy and throw your best shot at TCU Friday night? Or do you hope someone else can get it done and leave your ace for game one of a potential championship series? Let the chess match begin... but for tonight... GO FROGS!!! #NEGU