ARLINGTON, TX — TCU Baseball caught no breaks in their season opener against Ole Miss, with a myriad of reviews going against them and 11 runners stranded — seven in scoring position — on the night. Things were a bit different Sunday, though, and that was a relief for Frog fans.
TCU, in the visitors clubhouse for game two, got on the board early, thanks to a pair of Mississippi State errors in the top of the first. After not leading at all against the Rebs, they led right out of the gate against the Bulldogs, as Tommy Sacco turned a leadoff walk, a stolen base, and a pair of errors into the game’s first run.
On the mound, Russell Smith was strong in his first inning of the new season, setting down the side in order thanks to a pair of ground balls and a strikeout. The 6’9” lefty did something his opening day counterpart could not: got out of trouble in the second.
Smith made quick work of the first batter he faced, and seemed poised to get out unscathed after following Hatcher’s single with another strikeout. But an error on Conner Shepherd at third put two on with two out for the Bulldogs, who were in prime position to tie the game up. But Smith was primed as well, getting Cumbest looking for his fourth strikeout of the game and ending the threat.
“I thought he was really good,” Schlossnagle said of his starter. “He’s been our most consistent starting pitcher throughout the fall — the difference for him now is, he never had a consistent breaking ball, but the slider is really effective. He can do a lot of things — when he’s healthy, he’s the best starting pitcher we have.”
TCU would threaten in the top of the fourth, putting runners at second and third with no outs thanks to Gene Wood’s lead-off walk and Austin Henry’s double. But the next three batters would go down without advancing the runners, keeping things tight at 1-0 in favor of the Frogs.
The Bulldogs put up a fight in the bottom of the fifth, with Hancock turning an 11 pitch at bat into a leadoff single. But Russell Smith wasn’t having it; even after Hancock advanced to third on a wild pitch and throwing error by Zach Humphreys, Smith settled in and settled his team down, ending the inning on a swinging strikeout to turn the momentum back in the Frogs’ favor.
They were able to capitalize on it in the sixth.
Hunter Wolfe opened things up with a single, taking second when Wood walked for the second time of the game. Both runners advanced on a wild pitch, and Wolfe scored on a ground ball off of the bat of Austin Henry to make it 2-0 TCU. Zach Humphreys was up next and hit into a double play, and despite the fact that he looked to have beaten the throw at first, he was confirmed out on review.
The Bulldogs got on the board in the bottom of the sixth when Jordan sent one over the left center fence and into the TCU bullpen. Smith issued his first walk of the day two batters later, and that was all Schloss and Saarloos needed to see, lifting him for Marcelo Perez. The one-time closer did his job, inducing an inning-ending double play and limiting the damage. Smith’s final line: 5.1 innings, one run on three hits, six strikeouts and a walk.
The Frogs struck back in the seventh thanks to their wunderkind freshmen. Luke Boyers earned a base on a hit by pitch and Elijah Nunez got him all the way to third on his first career hit — a shot to right center that he ran into a double. Tommy Sacco’s sacrifice fly made it a 3-1 game, but TCU would certainly regret not adding to that total.
Much like Saturday, Sunday’s game was a story of missed opportunities. After stranding 11 in the opener, the Frogs left too many on base in game two — eight — but the difference between Saturday and Sunday was the Bulldogs left more. And that hurt them in the final frame.
Perez was lights out in his season debut until he wasn’t, and though “I wish he would have finished the game,” Schlossnagle said, he had to exit with one out in the ninth. After notching his fifth strikeout of the game to open the final frame, Perez surrendered back to back hits, a double off the wall in center and an RBI single that cut the lead to 3-2. Augie Mihlbauer came in in relief but it was a short stay, as he left after two pitches that ended in a single that put runners at the corners.
Schloss had a tough decision to make there, electing to roll with true freshman Garrett Wright, who would make his debut in a one run ball game with two on and 16,000 fans letting him hear it. “It’s not fair for me to put him in that position for his first college appearance,” Schlossnagle said. “But we felt like, when he’s on, he’s the best guy to get a swing and miss.”
It would take a while, but his faith in the freshman would be born out.
Wright’s first five pitches were balls — the first four of which led to a walk to load the bases. But his sixth was the game-winner, as he induced an inning-ending double play ball to preserve the 3-2 win. “I was a little nervous for him,” Russell Smith, who earned the win, said after the game. “But he’s one of the best out there. He’s prepared — and he’s better than I was as a freshman. I was a little nervous, but he got the groundball we needed to win.”
Schlossnagle bemoaned the missed opportunities yet again, saying, “the guys who were at the plate, they've played enough baseball. They’re not trying to make outs, not trying to pop out, but veteran players have to execute when given the opportunity.”
Running their record to 1-1 is a big deal for the Frogs, who have to face a really good Arkansas team in the finale Monday evening. Getting the first victory under their belt helps, and doing so in this atmosphere is the icing on the cake, according to Smith. “There’s nothing better, no better atmosphere in college baseball. To be in front of 16,000 people with my teammates, it was incredible.”
The Frogs had just four hits Sunday, but scored three runs despite it — though most of the damage came by walk (seven) or error (two). TCU had two doubles and struck out eight times, but got the big plays they needed at big moments thanks to the pitching staff.
Tomorrow night’s finale against Arkansas will be the season debut for Austin Krob, another highly-touted arm who will have his hands full with the potent Razorback offense. First pitch is scheduled for 6:00pm.