Woo! The Frogs will be moving to the College World Series after dispatching the Aggies in College Station by a score of 4-1. After a bit of a rocky start, Brian Howard became absolutely dominant as A&M ended up hitless after the first inning and the Frogs put together enough offense to take a lead that would never be threatened. TCU was absolutely dominant on the mound tonight, and that sort of performance is something that bodes incredibly well for the Frogs as we head to Omaha for the third year in a row.
Not enough can be said about Howard, who settled down masterfully after a rocky first inning that allowed A&M to get on the board first by way of an error. At the time, it seemed we were in for another rocky ride, and no one could have anticipated that the Aggie's single hit of the inning would be one of only two for the team in the game, coupled with a single in the second. The big righty was absolutely dominant, commanding all three of his pitches to keep A&M batters guessing, working both sides of the plate, and playing some nice defense to boot. His final line would end up at seven innings of two hit ball, with only a single unearned run allowed, and eighth strikeouts against only a pair of walks. His steadiness allowed his teammates to stay focused and engaged throughout a tense affair, and his energy and fire kept them believing they could come back and win.
The Frogs struggled against TAMU's Turner Larkins, who was all but unhittable through the first four frames. Despite getting the leadoff man on in four straight innings, from the second through the fifth, TCU couldn't get a runner past second, or string together anything consecutive. But in the fifth, the momentum started to change, and Larkins got rattled just enough to give the Frogs a sliver of daylight at the plate. Watson opened the frame with a single to right, and after Steinhagen struck out, Merrill hit a hot shot right up the middle and off of Larkin's glove. One matter later, Connor Wanhanen hit one to short, allowing A&M to get Merrill at second, but putting runners on the corners with two out for Wade. With Larkin's pressing, Barash lost track of a ball in the dirt, leading to Josh Watson sliding in safely for the Frog's first run of the game, and tying things up in the process. Wade would walk on a full count to load the bases, forcing A&M to go to the pen. They brought in Andrew Vinson, who has been unbelievable all year, and he responded by striking out Ca Warner, who took a ball outside for the third out.
Both teams would go quietly in the sixth, as the two dueling pitchers executed to perfection, going 1-2-3 in each half of the frame. It was the seventh when everything changed for both teams.
Watson once again started things off with a single, putting a runner on with no outs yet again. Steinhagen was up next, and he laced a hot shot to the corner, where third baseman Boomer White couldn't quite field it cleanly. That put two on with no outs, and after a Merrill fly out, Connor Wanhanen walked on four straight to load the bases. Vinson, who had walked only eight batters all year leading up to the game, fell behind Wade 3-0, before battling back to work the count full. His off speed pay off pitch couldn't find the black, and the low and away ball four brought Watson in from third, and gave TCU their first lead since Friday night, this one at 2-1. With the bags still full of Frogs, Warner got a hold of one, blasting a ball to the wall for a loud sacrifice fly. On the play, Steinhagen scored, and Wade took a chance on advancing to second. The throw was nearly perfect, but Aggie shortstop Austin Homan couldn't quite get the tag applied. Instead of keeping his glove down, he went to argue the call, and in doing so, missed an opportunity to get Wade on the second pass, as he had slid past the bag initially. The Aggies were in full melt-down mode at this point, and the turn of events had them rattled - not a good spot to be with Evan Skoug at the plate. A wild pitch brought home Wanhanen - with the help of some excellent communication from Skoug, and it was 4-1 Frogs. Skoug would eventually draw a walk, and while Luken Baker would strike out (something he would do twice on the night), the damage was done, and TCU had all the runs they would need.
After another perfect inning by Howard - who was absolutely rolling and had TAMU hitters slamming their bats in frustration - TCU went quietly in the top of the eighth, and turned to true freshman Durbin Feltman to get the final six outs. While most fans wanted to see Howard come back out for one more inning, the decision ended up working out perfectly - the sheer power of Feltman's stuff was kryptonite to the Aggie batters who were over-swinging in an attempt to get anything in play. Schlossnagle made another important choice, subbing in Michael Landestoy for Connor Wanhanen at first base. This decision was possibly more important, as Landestoy made two incredible stretch and pick plays on low throws for crucial outs.
Feltman worked a perfect eighth and ninth, collecting a strikeout and throwing a scant 26 pitches. The moment seems to never be too big for this kid.
It was a throwback game of sorts for the Frogs, who used dominant pitching, timely hitting, and a few lucky breaks to take the game, the Super Regional Title, and the ticket to Omaha Sunday night in a hostile environment. Only one Frog had multiple hits - Josh Watson, who added two runs scored to his two base hits - and the rest of the lineup managed only four more singles. TCU had ten strikeouts but drew six walks to help balance that out, and truly won this game by being aggressive and opportunistic. They took a lot of chances, and tonight, it paid off.
It was supposed to be a rebuilding year. This team is too young, they lost too much talent. Next year was THE year. But, here we are - on our way to Omaha yet again. With two conference mates waiting for us there. And we had to go through one of the toughest places to play in the country to do it. These young Frogs, they sure did grow up fast.
Ready or not. Three years running.