The Frogs got off to a slow start in Houston, almost like they hadn't quite shaken off the bad juju from Sunday's beatdown at the hands of the Trojans of USC. Despite run-ruling Rice in the Houston Classic just a couple weeks ago, it was the Owls who controlled the pace of play on Tuesday night at Reckling Park. But, as we all know, it's not how you start, it's how you finish.
Dalton Horton got the start for TCU, his third of the season, and the true freshman got off to a fast start in shutting down the Rice offense through the first inning. But in inning number two, he would surrender his first earned run of his collegiate career, as he gave up a one out single, balked the runner to second, and saw him score on a bunt single two batters later. The Frogs answered in the top half of the third as Dane Steinhagen opened the frame with a single, Michael Landestoy (starting for a still recovering Connor Wanhanen) and Austen Wade both walked, and Cam Warner singled home the run. Landestoy was caught trying to take third base, but TCU had the bases loaded with one out and the opportunity to take control early. Much like we saw over the weekend, the Frogs squandered a golden opportunity to break the game open, as they could not get anything out of Evan Skoug or Luken Baker, who both popped out.
Horton settled in until the fifth inning, where a double, walk, and single would push two runs across the plate and end Dalton's night. Janczak relieved him and minimized the damage, with a little help from Skoug who would pick off a runner trying to steal second. Rice added a fourth run an inning later, and Brian Trieglaff would make a trip to the mound to open up the bottom of the seventh.
Meanwhile, TCU just couldn't get much going on the road through the middle frames. Much like we saw against USC, the Frogs showed excellent plate discipline in wracking up ten walks against the Rice pitching staff, but couldn't turn baserunners into runs with any regularity - until the eighth, that is. Luken Baker opened the frame with a walk, and advanced to second on a passed ball. Josh Watson took a stroll of his own a batter later, bringing up the suddenly human Elliot Barzilli - but Barz made Rice pitcher Glenn Otto pay for his indiscretions with an RBI double. Ryan Merrill sacrificed in run number three, and suddenly the Frogs had grabbed momentum and cut the deficit to a single run. Dane Steinhagen was up next, and as he has been prone to do, he came through in the clutch, knotting the game at four with a single. Rice would switch pitchers ahead of Landestoy's trip to the plate, but it wouldn't matter, as he was a recipient of yet another free pass. Another pitcher would come in, the third of the inning, for Austen Wade, but it would be more of the same - another walk, the fourth of the frame. Injured center fielder Nolan Brown would make just his second appearance of the season, this time in a pinch running role for Wade. With the bases loaded yet again, Cam Warner couldn't push one through to give the Frogs the lead, as he struck out swinging to end the threat. But three runs on four walks and two hits would be enough to make it a whole new ball game with an inning and a half to go.
Trieglaff set the side down in order to keep the mo firmly on the side of the visitors. Skoug would do his part to keep the train rolling, opening the top of the ninth with a single. Baker was next and he... wait for it... WALKED, to put two on for Josh Watson. A weird sequence of events would give TCU it's first lead since the early innings, as Watson was safe on a blown double play that managed to take Baker out at second. Watson would score on a fielder's choice by Barzilli, giving TCU a two run cushion, before Merrill's double play ended the inning. Trieglaff went back out for the ninth and surrender a lead off single, but induced a double play one batter later to clear the bases. Trieglaff would get the final batter of the evening to secure the come from behind win for Schloss' squad, ensuring that they would avoid their first losing streak of the year.
TCU's six runs on nine hits would be a pretty efficient night, but the inability to break the game open despite Rice pitchers issuing a stunning ten walks, including four in the eighth, is somewhat concerning. While leaving ten total runners on base is troubling, TCU's walk ratio is to be commended - the plate discipline they display is almost uncanny at the collegiate level, and if they can consistently make opponents pay for free passes, as they have shown the ability to do at times, the offense can be a true force to be reckoned with. The pitching, while not as sharp as it was to open the season, was great when it needed to be, as the bullpen took charge of the game and ensured TCU could make a run to get back into it, while issuing only a single walk.
The Frogs raise their record to 13-3 on the year, best in the conference. With Big XII play set to begin Friday, TCU welcomes a surprising WVU Montaineers team, that is 10-3 on the year and in second place in the league. Play will open Friday with first pitch set for 6:30 at Lupton; we will have more on the series and the Eers later in the week.