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Shriners’ Classic rewind: Remembering the time that TCU and Texas A&M made us lose our minds — and leap for joy in the end

There are no words that appropriately describe that night — one that deserves eternal celebration.

Shriners College Classic
Shriners College Classic
Melissa Triebwasser

It was all a blur by the time Ryan Merrill was being mobbed at second-base at 1:58 a.m., Central Standard Time.

Momentum had swung back and forth at Minute Maid Park more times than anybody cared to count. More players had been utilized than anybody cared to count. Less than 12 hours remained before TCU baseball would be back on the field to take on another SEC powerhouse.

And by the time head coach Jim Schlossnagle was wrapping up his postgame spiel, there was one line of advice that resounded above the rest for everyone who had been a part of the 15 inning marathon that fateful night in Houston.

“Get something quick to eat and go to sleep.”

Easier said than done, considering the adrenaline rush several thousand had just experienced — and that fact most restaurants had shut their doors by the time 2:30 a.m. rolled around.

Rarely will you ever find a Major League Baseball stadium full of energy in the predawn hours of a Sunday in early March. That’s not how baseball is really supposed to work. Unless you throw Horned Frogs and Aggies onto the same diamond — then all bets are off.

You remember the playoff games. There was the initial marathon in the 2015 Super Regional, as fans crowded into the bushes of Lupton Stadium to see the Horned Frogs ultimately punch their ticket for a return trip to Omaha. It happened again a year later in College Station, though there wasn’t nearly the same drama other than Boomer White pulling off a Bill Buckner of sorts.

There was also the time in 2017 where the guys who used to call the Big 12 home made it to the College World Series, assured they had finally escaped their newfound tradition of ending their season with a loss to that purple powerhouse in Fort Worth .... until they didn’t.

And then there was this the game: The time that TCU and Texas A&M met in Houston for a regular-season clash on March 4, 2017, featuring a saga of events that not even the best screenwriter in Hollywood could devise for a sports epic on the big-screen by the time the dust settled 15 innings and roughly 6.5 hours later.

At times, it was a shellacking. At other times, it was a nail-biter. At some points, the game was so drunk that it deserved to be played on Main Street. The Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers were so inspired that they in fact tried to replicate the game on the same field with the entire nation watching seven months later — nearly breaking the sport of baseball altogether, as you might recall.

Now, enough with all the semantics. This is a journey back to the night in which TCU and Texas A&M baseball delivered a Big 12-SEC Clash for the ages, with the No. 1 team in the country digging itself out of its own grave that chilly Houston evening to improve to an overall 9-1 on the year.

Houston, we might have a problem

Let’s be clear. The start of this game was not good. It wasn’t because of that weird tradition of sawing Bevo’s — errr, varsity’s horns off that Aggie fans partook in moments before first pitch. No. You see, Nick Lodolo — now an ace of the rotation — didn’t even last a full inning before giving up 5 hits, 5 runs and taking a comebacker to the mound, a sequence that put TCU down 5-0 in the blink of an eye.

Thankfully there was Jake Eissler, who was able to calm down a Texas A&M that had done plenty of damage early thanks to a Walker Pennington blast into the Crawford Boxes and more. But even he had his hiccups, including a lead-off triple surrendered in the 5th inning that would ultimately result in a 7-1 Aggies lead once the frame came to pass.

Yes, it was bad. Not promising in the slightest. This was how the bragging rights over Texas A&M would come crashing down, wouldn’t it? All those jokes gone until TCU had a chance to respond with a smack-down of its own — and who knew at the point when the opportunity would come again. That trip to retrieve my broken down car in College Station (No, I am not driving my 2004 Ford Explorer to H-Town this time around) the next day suddenly seemed even less fun than it was going to be, without the humiliation on the baseball diamond.

Who knew what was about to happen? (If you claim that you did, congrats, you’re a liar)

Houston, we have lift-off

Enter the 7th inning. Though TCU had gotten three runs on the board by that point, it still looked bleak, with the Horned Frogs trailing 8-3. Time was starting to run out if TCU wanted to continue its newfound hobby of crushing the Aggies’ hopes and dreams. And honestly, nothing probably should have changed that inning, even with two on and two out for the Frogs at the plate.

Well, that all changed when what seemed to be routine single by Nolan Brown slipped under the glove of that same Pennington kid in the outfield, rolling all the way to the wall and letting not one but two runs score for the Frogs. 8-5 was your new score.

Press box chatter: “Hey, we have ourselves a ballgame.”

Indeed, we did — only for the deficit to grow back to five when Texas A&M scored two in the top of the ninth.

A five run hole for the Frogs heading with one last chance at the plate. Lovely. That’s a wrap, I suppose. Take the L, get some rest, and then head back to the yard tomorrow morning. It was fun while it lasted.

Then the real fun began ....

The blown ninth-inning save can be one of the most wonderful or most excruciating experiences in baseball, depending who you are cheering for. Think game 6 of the 1986 World Series. Think Mariano Rivera in game 7 of the 2001 World Series. Think the finale of the 2018 Big 12 Tourna.... uh, you know what, let’s not.

Think the time that team from College Station couldn’t hold on to a 5-run ninth inning lead against a team that always grows another head when the Aggies seemingly chop the first one off.

It seemed as if the fate had been sealed when closer Cason Sherrod took the mound to finish the job for Texas A&M in a game where the Aggies’ had doubled-up the Frogs in runs scored.

Five consecutive walks, two runs scored, zero outs recorded and two pitching changes later, that was hardly the case in what suddenly become a 10-7 ballgame. It was a stunning meltdown by Sherrod an the Texas A&M bullpen, but it happened, and TCU — out of nowhere — had a pulse in a contest where the Frogs had not long ago appeared dead.

Ryan Merrill would strike out for the first out of the inning, but the Frogs chipped another run closer when Austin Ingraham singled home another run one at-bat later to make it a 10-8 game, loading up the bases for Austin Wade — Ingraham now the game-winning runner at first — with still just one out in the ninth.

Was there a groan or two when Wade struck out looking on a full count? You bet. Only nobody imagined what would soon go down when Elliott Barzili stepped up to the plate. An infield screamer down the third base line — one that could have ended the game — was too much for the glove of A&M third baseman George Janca to handle, as the ball trickled past him and into the outfield. All the while, two TCU runners rounded third, and headed home.

Tie game.

On the third base side, a crowd of maroon was stunned. On the fist base side, a sea of purple was going berserk. In press row, every writer was hitting select-all-delete and getting some refills on coffee, no sure how or when this game might end.

Narrator: “The game did not end for — *checks notes — well, awhile.”

Will this thing ever end?

Believe me, there were plenty of opportunities for this game to end well before the ungodly hour in which it finally did. TCU had the bases loaded with no outs in the top of the twelfth, but decided not to score any runs at that opportunity, because the rules clearly state that Texas A&M-TCU games aren’t allowed to end that early — or without driving both you and me delirious.

By the time 1:45 a.m. rolled around and the thing was still tied, heading for the bottom of 15th inning, the question soon became whether or not anybody would believe our account of what happened at Minute Maid overnight once they got out of bed Sunday morning. This was a game that was destined to be in the top of 32nd inning by the time TCU and Ole Miss was set to begin game three in the morning.

Well, god bless Mr. Merrill, who decided — with two on and one out — to send one into the gap, allowing plenty of time for Nolan Brown to round third base from second and successfully reach home plate to get the celebration going.

The game — the maddening but beautiful marathon — was finally over. TCU 11, Texas A&M 10 (F/15).

It shouldn’t have been this way. Really, it was game which the Horned Frogs had no business winning after what happened less than half an inning in. But there was TCU, standing tall above the Aggies for yet another day — continuing what seemed to be a perpetual stretch of misery for Texas A&M in terms of solving Lupton Magic.

We could talk about how Texas A&M would later lose on a walk-off grand slam to Baylor less than 24 hours later, completing just a god-awful day at Minute Maid for the Aggies. We can later talk about how TCU bounced Texas A&M out of the College World Series before making it to the semifinals vs. Florida, where the Horned Frogs would see their season come to an end.

But we’ll leave it at this for now, because tonight, once again, it’s the Horned Frog-Aggie show — right back on the same field, with not the slightest sense of predictability attached.