In the biggest moments, teams rely on their biggest stars, and Friday night was no different for the Horned Frogs. TCU used a big first inning and a playoff-caliber Brian Howard performance to keep their Big 12 Tournament Championship hopes alive with a 6-0 win Friday night over Kansas, eliminating the Jayhawks and likely ending their season. With Texas Tech losing earlier in the day and TCU picking up their second win of the weekend, the Frogs are one more big step closer to a national seed.
After Kansas flustered the TCU hitters in their first matchup of the week, the Frogs struck early off of Kansas starter Sean Rackoski, who allowed four runs on two hits and three walks while getting just a single out. The first three Horned Frogs reached on walks, and after Cam Warner struck out, Nolan Brown and Elliott Barzilli ripped back to back two run singles to nearly the exact same place to give the Frogs a 4-0 lead. Unfortunately for Brown and TCU, the senior would have to leave the game after taking a cup to the head as Kansas tried - and failed - to turn a double play.
Meanwhile, Brian Howard shut down the Jayhawks, doing an outstanding job of mixing in his off-speed stuff and keeping the ball low in the zone. Howard hit the first batter he faced on his first pitch of the ball game, but was nearly un-hittable from there. KU’s best scoring chance came in the third, as they led off with a double and followed with a single, but Howard mower down three straight to keep them off the board. In all, Howard had 12 strike outs while allowing only three hits and not walking a batter, issuing just the single free pass on the hit by pitch.
TCU added some insurance in the fourth, as Connor Wanhanen absolutely roped a triple, scoring on a wild pitch after Austen Wade walked. Wade stole second, advanced to third on Humphrey’s fly ball, and scored on a balk.
Neither team was able to get much going from there, as Howard continued to fool Jayhawk hitters and get solid defense behind him. In all, he would finish with 9.0 innings of four hit ball, striking out 12, walking none, and hitting just one batter. It was akin to the kind of vintage performance that carried TCU through the postseason a year ago.
TCU will live to play another day, taking on Texas tomorrow at 12:30. A win will force a fifth game, to take place Saturday night, while a loss will send them back to Fort Worth. This is very similar to last year, though the roles are reversed - in 2016, it was Texas that fought back to force a second Saturday game, though TCU would eliminate them in the nightcap on their way to winning the tournament crown. Howard’s performance gives the Frogs an opportunity to compete and leaves some fresh arms in the pen. Expect Mitchell Traver to get the start, and we could see Haylen Green, Jake Eissler, and Charles King in extended roles as well.