Vanderbilt had the luxury of rolling out their best bullet Friday night, as first round pick Walker Buehler had yet to pitch in Omaha. TCU looked toward a guy who might have been classified as the #3 or #4 guy in the rotation, but has pitched some of his best baseball in the biggest moments.
Buehler played the part of ace early, rolling through the first three Frog batters with ease. On the other side, Alexander struggled... walking Ro Coleman on five straight and hitting Rhett Wiseman in the throat on a scary play to open things up. As lead-off walks tend to do, this one would come around to score - after striking out Dansby Swanson to get that all important first out, and inducing a pop up by the dangerous Zander Weil, Brian Reynolds managed to push a single just past the reach of Keaton Jones, bringing Coleman around to score. A grounder to second ended the threat, but the Dores had an all too familiar 1-0 lead, though early this time.
TCU struck out five times their first time through the lineup, including a streak of four in a row. On the other side, Vanderbilt seemed to have a bead on TCU's lefty early, and loaded the bases on three straight singles to open the bottom of the third. The fourth consecutive base knock would bring the second run of the game across, and Brian Trieglaff would make his way to the pen. A strikeout would put one out on the board, but a fifth single scored a third run, and with only one out, the bases remained full of Dores. That would end Alexander's night - for the sophomore who had three complete game wins in post season play in his career, the worst 2.1 innings he's thrown came at a terrible time. Brian Trieglaff would come on in the unenviable position of bases loaded and one out, and give up a fly out that appeared to score a run. But, on appeal, Zander Weil was ruled to have left early, and the Frogs remained just three runs down as he was called out at third, heading to inning number four. As someone who has coached softball, let me just say, you NEVER get that call. But it would be up to the Frogs to take advantage of the break, and make their own on the offensive side.
TCU would break up the no-no two batters later, as Jeremy Fagnan dropped one in the outfield for a single after Cody Jones grounded out to open the fourth. A Connor Wanhanen single would follow, and it appeared TCU might have caught up to Beuhler. With two on and one out, the Frogs sent their most dangerous weapon to the plate, but the hard hitting Evan Skoug grounded to short, and the ensuing double play would end the inning, and the scoring threat, for the boys in purple.
TCU would look back on the opportunity to change the momentum with much hand wringing just moments later, as Rhett Wiseman, fresh off a pitch to the neck and a single, absolutely mashed a ball out of the park with one on, giving the Dores a 5-0 lead. For a TCU team who's offense has been a mix of opportunistic hitting and benefiting from the mistakes of others, the five run hole must have seemed like a double digit deficit. But in true TCU spirit and with a #NEGU attitude, the Frogs brought Preston Morrison out for the bottom of the fifth. P Mo had the chance to either save the day, or pitch for the last time in purple and white. On short rest, Morrison wasn't at his very best, and a lead off triple by Bryan Reynolds made that evident. Toffey singled two pitches later, giving the Dores a 6-0 lead, and a poor throw on a steal attempt put a runner on third with just one out. A sac fly scored run #7, as Cody Jones' throw was off line once again. Morrison got out of the inning one batter later, but in a shut down situation, the two runs added by the Dores seemed massive.
In the top on the sixth, Cody Jones struck out, making him 0-3 on the night and 0-11 in Omaha. TCU went hitless in the frame, and the 7-0 deficit continued to loom large for a team that seemed befuddled by the Vanderbilt pitching once again. A quality inning by P Mo in the bottom of the sixth would keep the Dores off the board, and TCU looked to be in business one inning later. A lead off walk to Connor Wanhanen was followed by a Dane Steinhagen single, and opportunistic base-running by the freshman put runners on the corners with one out for Derek Odell. Odell absolutely blasted one to left, but an over the shoulder catch by Jeren Kendall robbed him of extra bases, and the Frog third baseman settled for an RBI on the sac fly. A single to right field by Keaton Jones, with Steinhagen going first to third, put runners on the corners for Nolan Brown - and that would signal the end of Walker Beuhler's night. The future Dodger saved his best for the big stage, and left with a 7-1 lead, but responsible for two TCU runners. Sophomore lefty John Killichowski came to the bump to take on Nolan Brown with two outs, part of a Vanderbilt bullpen that had yet to surrender a run in the CWS. Brown smoked one up the middle, but Killichowski was right there, and made the snag to end the inning with no further damage done. The one run would break the Frog's scoreless streak against the Dores, but would not put the dent on the scoreboard hoped for by players and fans alike.
With just six outs remaining on offense, TCU would look to their best bullpen arm to get a few outs of his own, as Riley Ferrell jogged to the mound for what he hoped would not be his last appearance for TCU. Ferrell opened up his performance with a strikeout of Reynolds, retiring the streaky Vanderbilt hitter for the first time on the night. A walk to the second man he faced, Will Toffey, put a runner on with one out, and a steal a few pitches later had the Dores back in business. Ferrell fell behind 3-1 to the freshman Kendall, and hit him two pitches later to put runners on first and second with only one out in the inning. A pair of strikeouts got him out of trouble, and though be made things interesting, Ferrell shut down the Vandy O in his first inning of work. With just six outs remaining, TCU game out in the top of the eighth needing to get something going against Killchowski, and Garrett Crain had money on the mind as he opened things up with a stand up double. CoJo would K one batter later, making him 0-12 at the College World Series, including two strikeouts in the deciding game. He picked a bad time for a slump, but the last week doesn't erase an absolutely magnificent season, and career for that matter. Fagnan struck out one batter later, to end the inning, and leave TCU with just three outs remaining to make a miracle and force a winner take all match on Saturday.
Ferrell was called upon to finish the eighth, and got a little help from Dane Steinhagen in left, as he made a diving catch on Ro Coleman's looper for out number one. Some serious heat sat down the night's hero, Rhett Wiseman, who looked overmatched against the big closer for the Frogs. Dansby Swanson was up next, and the battle of the #1 overall pick against the man who is often considered the best bullpen arm in the draft was a one sided one: Riley went up 1-2 on the short stop and got him swinging on a 90 mph slider one pitch later.
The ninth inning... three outs to extend your season. Three outs to make a miracle. To be one of only four remaining teams is an impressive feat - to put together the season TCU did, to survive the Regional with an amazing comeback, to outlast A&M in an epic two day showdown, to punch out LSU twice to get to this point... that's nothing to be ashamed of. Though their final game was not their best performance, not even close, sometimes, the magic just runs out. There were some tears in the dugout after the game, as seasons and careers end, but few heads were hung. TCU knows that making it to Omaha, not once, but twice in two years, is nothing to be ashamed of. And seeing the defending National Champs knock you out, well, sometimes you just get beat. TCU would go 1-2-3 in the ninth to end the game and their season, but there is no shame in that.
To the middle of our infield and the center of the outfield - Keaton, Cody, Garrett - thank you for letting us take you for granted by being so damn good for so long. I will miss keeping up with the Jones' so very much. Preston Morrison... you are a gentleman and a scholar, on and off the mound. We talk about #FrogFactor in football, but you brought that every day to the diamond. Trey Teakell, well, I think I let my love of the Teak ring clear earlier today, but man... what can you say about the big guy? He starred without ever asking to. What a leader. Derek Odell grew as a ball player and a man so much over the course of his TCU career, and he has a bright future as a pro and a daddy. And the latter might be more fun to watch. To the guys who will likely leave early - Riley Ferrell was as entertaining a guy on the mound as we will ever see, and his ability to make the best hitters in the country look like little leaguers was beyond special. I hope to see him pitching in the playoffs, a la Finny, this fall. Tyler Alexander and Alex Young both have big league stuff, and gave us so many memories in big spots in the post season the past two years. To the guys coming back... Traver, PG, B Ho, Wanny, Skoug, Brown, Dane, Evan, and names that we don't know much about now but will be vehemently behind soon enough, that was fun; what do ya say we do it again next year? Oh, and the freshmen coming in? You've got some big shoes to fill. I can't wait to see what they do.
We will spend more time reflecting in the coming days, but for tonight, rest easy Frog fans. Though the sting of losing is sharp, we have a lot to be proud of and a lot to be thankful for when it comes to this team. Tonight, and every night, GO FROGS!