TCU played a sloppy game one of their Super Regional matchup with a very good Missouri State team, and if not for Evan Skoug’s heroics, we would all be bemoaning a slough of missed opportunities. But thanks to the Frogs’ catcher, leader, and super human slugger, TCU fans and players can go home happy knowing they are just one game away from reaching the College World Series for a fourth straight year.
When Jim Schlossnagle decided to roll with his ace, redshirt sophomore Jared Janczak, in game one, it was met with mixed feelings by those of us who like to pretend we know things. Though Janczak got the ball in game one of both the Regionals and Super Regionals a year ago, it seemed... well... ballsy... to do this weekend. If the Frogs weren’t able to capitalize and bring home a win, it would certainly look regrettable, but up against the Bears’ number two, Schloss wanted his #1. It almost didn’t pay off.
The Bears struck first, as super slugger Jeremy Eierman lifted one into the wind in right field for a solo shot to start the second, after both teams went in order in the first. TCU tied things up in the bottom of the frame, though they almost lost the opportunity. Elliott Barzilli led off the inning with a walk, advanced to second on a passed ball, and went to third on a wild pitch. Connor Wanhanen followed with a strikeout - his first of three on the day - and then Josh Watson hit one hard to third. Barz broke on the swing of the bat and got caught in a rundown, tagged out between third and home. He did a good job buying enough time for Watson to get to second base, and that would be huge, as he was able to score on Ryan Merrill’s single a batter later.
Both teams went in order in the bottom of the third, as the game turned in to a pitcher’s duel between JJ and MSU’s Drew Coleman. Coleman, who came into the game with a 4.99 ERA, turned in one of the gutsiest performances of the post season, going 7.1 innings and throwing 132 total pitches. He baffled the Horned Frogs all afternoon, scattering three hits and striking out 10, despite some wildness early - five walks surrendered.
Meanwhile, Janczak pitched well, but never truly dominated in the way we are used to, though looking at the box score, it’s hard to find much to complain about. JJ lost the lead in the fifth inning as his defense made several mistakes behind him, effectively giving MSU an extra out. JJ got a quick two pitch pop out to start the frame, but Logan Geha - who isn’t exactly known for his bat but was really good Saturday - blasted a double to the gap. Ryan Merrill made a poor throw on a ball hit to him at short as he tried to get the lead runner, but Geha slid in safely and Privitera was safe on the play as well. With runners at the corners, Steinmetz laid down a perfect bunt single, giving the Bears their first lead since the second inning. Janczak would come back to strike out the next two batters and limit the damage, but the previously raucous Lupton crowd was quieted.
JJ settled in until the seventh, finishing 6.1 innings of five hit, two run ball, striking out ten and walking just one. He threw 107 pitches and walked off the mound for the last time at Lupton in 2017 to a rousing ovation. Sean Wymer took over in his first action in over a week and was brilliant; he allowed just one base runner, on a walk, and struck out one in 1.2 innings of work, to give TCU a chance. And a chance is all these #NEGU Frogs would need.
Zach Humphreys opened the bottom of the eighth with a walk that was significant for two reasons: one, it put the tying run on base. Two, and the more significant reason, it chased Coleman from the game. Missouri State coach Keith Guttin is going to lose some sleep tonight, as he made the choice to bring in lefty starter Knutson as opposed to one of his two shutdown bullpen arms. Sure, the book tells you to go lefty on lefty, but the book doesn’t tell you what to do with Evan Skoug. Knutson looked rattled from the moment he took the mound, sliding and falling several times during his warm up pitches. That got the crowd back into it, and on a 2-1 count, Skoug got them to explode, lifting a ball high and deep to right field, and giving TCU a 3-2 lead as the dugout - led by Brian Howard - went absolutely nuts. As he lept and fist pumped around the bases, the whole complexion of the Missouri State team changed, as the energy was completely sucked out of them, a golden opportunity gone asunder.
With the lead in hand, Schloss made the call for Durbin Feltman, who was dominant the weekend before. Durbs was a little rusty though, and made things interesting by walking the leadoff batter and allowing a one out single to put two on. But a 5-6-3 double play ball ended the inning, ended the game, and gave the Frogs the always important game one Super Regional win.
TCU will need to bring their A game Sunday - this MSU team is too talented to continue to make defensive errors and mistakes on the base paths. The Frogs left six runners on base, were just 1-7 with RISP, had two errors, and two runners caught stealing. It was a sloppy game that needed a miracle ending, one that Evan Skoug happily provided. But, they can’t count on that for game two, and should look much more like the team that has been there before, tomorrow.
The Frogs will turn to Brian Howard, who is 4-0 in his last four post season starts, to try and book their ticket to Omaha. Missouri State has yet to announce their starter, and could go with reliever Jake Fromson or starter Doug Still. In a win or go home game, all bets are off, and all players - save Coleman - will be available. Whoever they go with, TCU will need to be better at the plate and on the base paths in backing up Howard, and I expect them to do just that as they look for their first ever two game Supers sweep.