Heading into the weekend, against a marquee field for the MLB4 Tournament, Jim Schlossnagle made it clear he wasn’t going to read too much into what happened, one way or the other in Arizona. “These are four teams that could easily be one whole side of a bracket in the College World Series. We’re not going to make too much of it one way or the other.” But, that doesn’t mean that he couldn’t appreciate the opportunity in front of his young team. “We’ll find out real quick what kind of club we have and the areas that we need to improve upon. We try to play a good schedule early on to expose ourselves, I guess you could call it. It doesn’t mean if the weekend goes great, we’re going to have a great season. And if it doesn’t go the way we want, it doesn’t mean we’re going to have a bad season.”
Well, I think Schloss will leave Arizona feeling confidently that it went how they wanted.
After getting shut out in the opener against Cal State Fullerton - while holding the Titans to just two runs - the Horned Frogs offense exploded against an overmatched UVA pitching staff on their way to a 9-4 victory. But while Saturday’s win was impressive - as were the four hit performances by freshman Porter Brown and senior Josh Watson - it was what TCU did Sunday against the number one team in the country that should have Frog fans excited ahead of Tuesday’s home opener.
Vanderbilt’s offense had been potent, to say the least, as the Dores dropped double digit runs in each of their first two games in Arizona, both victories. But they allowed nine runs to both Fullerton and Virginia, showing just the slightest weakness for TCU to take advantage of.
Both teams put pitchers on the mound who had never played at the Division I level; TCU’s Brandon Williamson, a 6’6” lefty out of Minnesota by way of North Iowa CC, is not only new to TCU, but coming off of an injury - but you wouldn’t know it by his 3.2 inning performance that included seven strikeouts. The Dores, on the other hand, turned to freshman phenom Kumar Rocker, the highest ranked player to choose college last season. His collegiate debut did not go as planned.
TCU struck early and often against the 6’4”, 225 pound righty, chasing him after just an inning and a third by racking up five runs - all earned - on five hits with two walks and just one strikeout. Porter Brown, TCU’s freshman phenom, started things off with a lead-off single, scoring on Josh Watson’s double a batter later. Watson came around on Austin Henry’s knock, who himself would score when Alex Isola - making his first start - singled to pick up the first RBI of his career, giving the Frogs a 3-0 lead after an inning of play.
Vanderbilt got one back in the top of the second with back to back doubles off of Williamson, but the rally was short-lived. TCU got that run back and more in the bottom of the second, scoring twice with a tip of the hat to some wild pitching. Frankly, the inning could have been bigger - the Frogs had the bags full with just one out thanks to two walks and a hit by pitch - but TCU could only manage an Austin Henry single and Jake Guenther sac fly to plate a pair after the Dores went to the pen and Mason Hickman. After a 1-2-3 top of the third for Williamson and the defense, Johnny Rizer did his part to give the Frogs a little cushion with a lead-off double - continuing his non eight game hitting streak that stretches back to last season. Andrew Keefer sacrificed him over and Bobby Goodloe singled him home, making it a 6-1 game and allowing Frog fans to breathe a little easier.
Jake Eissler came in in the top of the fourth to get Williamson out of some two-out trouble, ending the threat with a strikeout - his first of the season. The Dores would get one more run an inning later off of the Eiss-man, with three consecutive two out singles. But, once again, TCU would ensure they held their lead, scoring three times in the bottom of the sixth off of Tyler Brown, the third Commodore pitcher of the game. Wolfe’s one out single was followed by a Porter Brown walk, and, after Watson grounded into a force out at second, Henry doubled both runners home. Guenther picked up his second RBI of the year with a single that ended the scoring for the frame and left the Frogs in front 9-2.
Eissler kept dealing in the top of the seventh and TCU kept hitting in the bottom, stretching their lead to 10-2 off of singles by Rizer and Goodloe and a sac fly from Wolfe. A 1-2-3 top of the eighth for Eissler was followed by a 1-2-3 bottom of the frame for the Frogs. Eissler came back out for the ninth, and struck out the side to end the ball game. The Eiss-man went five and a third, allowing one run on three hits with three Ks and a walk. He and Williamson combined to hold down a Dores’ offense that had scored 29 runs in their first two games, allowing just two Sunday on seven hits, striking out ten and walking just two. It was an impressive performance to give the Frogs some serious momentum heading into a week of winnable games.
TCU will make their home debut Tuesday evening against Abilene Christian, with first pitch scheduled for 6:30pm. We will likely see the Frogs turn to either Charles King or Haylen Green to get the midweek start.
What a weekend. Go Frogs.