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Baker, Frogs Comeback Against WVU

TCU mounted a late-inning rally to stun the Mountaineers and take home the Big 12 Tournament championship.

TCU celebrates winning the Big 12 Tournament Championship
TCU celebrates winning the Big 12 Tournament Championship
Melissa Triebwasser

It was quite the ballgame for a TCU team that has found ways to win time and time again in OKC, as the Frogs jumped out to an 8-0 lead early, scuffled it away late, and rallied to defeat WVU in extra innings on a Luken Baker homerun in the tenth.

It was an early-offense explosion for the Frogs, who put five runs on the board before Rex Hill had thrown a single pitch. Warner opened up the offense with a double, and Skoug and Baker followed with back-to-back singles. Watson doubled a batter later, chasing starter Michael Grove, who then gave up a single on the first pitch he threw to Dane Steinhagen. On the other side, Rex Hill scuffled through the first two frames, but was able to keep the Eers off the board, and benefitted from the hot start in the box of his teammates. But he got into some trouble in the third, as four hits, a wild pitch, and an error had West Virginia in business. Guillory would relieve the starter, and get an inning ending double-play on the first pitch he threw, but WVU had put three runs on the board and momentum back in their corner.

TCU answered back in the next inning on a Michael Landestoy solo shot - a home run, that Coach Schlossnagle said after the game "got him the most excited he had been all season", and helped further entrench the first baseman in the lineup for the foreseeable future. Landestoy took over Connor Wanhanen's spot in the lineup in game two against Texas yesterday, and his hot hitting and exceptional defense kept him there. The Eers answered back in the bottom half of the fourth, putting three runs on the board with two outs, highlighted by a Darius Hill triple over the head of TCU right fielder Austen Wade, who got a bad read off the bat and couldn't make, what would have been, an incredible play. It's questionable as to whether the pitch should have ever needed to be thrown, as Guillory thought he had strike three on the previous pitch, but didn't get the call from the home plate umpire, who did not endear himself to TCU players, or fans, throughout the contest. More on that later, though.

With momentum clearly in their corner, WVU kept chipping away, while the TCU bats when silent for the next three innings. The five run fifth gave the Mountaineers the lead, one they would hold until the ninth inning. Ryan Burnett came out of the bullpen for the Frogs and gave them life, throwing 2.1 innings of one hit ball to keep the game in reach. Working against TCU was some bad mojo though, including losing Elliott Barzilli, who took a ball to the face diving for a grounder and left with one of the nastiest shiners I have ever seen. Hesse replaced him at third, and did a nice job - he is probably the only player in the country that can say he played second, short, and third in the same tournament.

Trailing by a run in the eighth, TCU made their first attempt at a comeback. Skoug doubled to start the inning off, moved to third on Baker's sac fly, and appeared to everyone but the home plate umpire to safely tag the plate on Mason Hesse's chopper to second. He didn't get the call, and the inning would end on Hesse's steal attempt - a good throw and a bad jump spelled disaster and left TCU with only three outs to get back in it.

But get back in it they did. Freshman Durbin Feltman, who had yet to pitch in the tournament, came in throwing gas. A little wild early, he worked around a lead-off walk in the bottom of the eighth and kept WVU from adding to their lead. In the top on the ninth, Josh Watson, who had been at the plate with a two strike count when Hesse was caught stealing, led off with a single. Steinhagen singled behind him, putting runners at the corners for Ryan Merrill. His sac fly to left center tied things up, and set the stage for more drama. Feltman once again issued a lead-off walk in the bottom of the ninth, but got a strikeout and a couple easy plays in the field to send the game to extras.

I don't think anyone in the park had any doubt what Luken Baker would do when he stepped to the plate in the top of the tenth. The gifted freshman, who had hit one off the hotel to the tune of 441' against Texas the night before - his third homer of the tournament - worked the count in his favor as Smith tried desperately to pitch around him. But on a 3-1 count, mighty Baker saw a fastball he liked, and obliterated it to left for a solo shot and a TCU lead. The TCU bench and purple-clad crowd exploded, and you could almost feel the air get sucked out of the West Virginia side. With some of their best hitters due up in the bottom of the tenth it wasn't over, but it felt over, and that matters in baseball. Feltman came back throwing gas, and with the Eers trying valiantly to tie it up on a single swing, he worked a pair of strikeouts and a ground out to short to give TCU the win and the tournament championship.

It's been a long road for this young TCU team. They started so strongly, scuffled in the middle, and came back with an excellent offensive tournament. Skoug, Barzilli, Watson, Warner, Howard, and Baker all made the all-tournament team, and Baker was of course named the most-outstanding player. The freshman crushed four home runs and hit over .700 on the week, dominating in a fashion that hasn't been seen here in a long time. The Frogs will await their fate for the regionals tomorrow, but as Coach Schloss said in the post game presser, TCU has done enough, and had done enough before today, to earn the right to play at Lupton next weekend.