LUBBOCK, TX — It was a wild one right out of the gate Friday night, as a pair of top ten teams met in a battle for control of the Big 12 Conference.
In front of a near capacity crowd at Rip Griffin Park, the Horned Frogs dealt blow after blow early and held on late for a 7-3 victory in the series opener against the Red Raiders.
Things began inauspiciously enough, as Elijah Nunez grounded out against Micah Dallas to start the game. It got ugly from there. Luke Boyers, back in the starting lineup for the second time since injuring himself in the Baylor series, worked a four pitch walk, and Brayden Taylor earned a free base as well. Zach Humphreys sent Luke scurrying home with the games’ first hit, a single up the middle. From there, Gene Wood’s groundout made it 2-0 TCU, leaving a runner at third with two outs.
The Horned Frogs have been exceptional at two out hitting during their win streak, and especially so in the early innings. Friday was no different, as TCU added four runs with two down in the first frame of the ball game.
With Humphreys at third, Hunter Wolfe walked and stole second. Gray Rodgers, who has been seeing the ball well over the last week or so, tripled down the right field line to make it 4-0 Frogs. Phillip Sikes, down in the order Friday, delivered a two run home run to right center to send Russell Smith to the mound for the first time with a 6 run cushion.
Smith was electric early, striking out two batters in each of the first two innings as he retired nine of the first ten batters he faced. But the Red Raiders got to him a bit in the fourth, scoring four runs thanks to Jase Jung’s league-leading home run — a solo shot to right — and a pair of errors by the defense (one on Taylor at third and another by Smith on a check swing ground ball down the first base line) that allowed a second run to cross.
Both of those errors had turf monster written all over them.
The Frogs got a run back in the fifth, helped by the Tech defense. Wood hit a ground ball to third but the throw was well over the first baseman’s head, and he was able to take two bases. He quickly stole third and was able to score on a Rodgers sac fly to make it 7-2. Sikes was up next, and thanks to a misplayed ball in right field, turned a fly out into a triple — though he would be stranded there.
A pair of singles and a wild pitch aided the Red Raiders in matching TCU’s fifth inning run total, and Tech was gaining momentum after the Frogs went in order for the first time Friday in the top of the sixth and did so again an inning later.
But that certainly didn’t matter to Russell Smith.
He struck out the last batter of the sixth inning and all three batters he faced in the seventh, running his total to 12 on the day, the second highest total of his career. Smith threw 107 pitches Friday night — 75 of which were for strikes — as he absolutely dominated a dangerous Tech offense, allowing just two earned runs on five hits while not walking a single batter on the night.
River Ridings took over in the eighth, in what is likely the biggest moment to date of his young career. He got a ground ball to third against the first batter he faced, but Brayden Taylor airmailed the throw after an incredible diving stop, his second error of the night. Credit to Ridings, a true freshman, who bucked up to strikeout Jase Jung looking, red-hot Stilwell, and Runion to avoid any trouble. It was an impressive effort in a tough environment for the young lefty.
After a quiet top of the ninth, Haylen Green toed the rubber in a save situation, making his 15th appearance of the year. The first batter he faced sent one deep over Phillip Sikes’ head, who crashed into the wall giving the Red Raiders a runner on third to open their final frame. But Green struck out three straight from there, stranding the runner on third and earning his seventh save of the season.
TCU saw eight of their nine starters reach base safely Friday, with only Gene Wood failing to do so — and even he had an RBI. Gray Rodgers and Phillip Sikes had three and two runs batted in respectively, with Sikes and Boyers collecting two hits a piece. TCU struck out 12 times and walked just five, scoring seven runs on seven hits with the help of a Tech error as well.
Defensively, the Frogs struggled, committing three errors after playing relatively clean baseball through the first ten games of their 11 game win streak. But credit to the pitching, who took the big lead early and cruised to the finish in dominating fashion.
The bright side for Tech fans has to be Mason Montgomery, who saved the Red Raiders bullpen by going five strong, allowing just one run on one hit with seven strikeouts. TCU had some chances to chase him, but credit to the sometime-starter for holding down the fort after Dallas’ tough go of things.
The two teams will square off again Saturday afternoon, with first pitch set for 2:00pm. Austin Krob is expected to toe the runner for the Horned Frogs, who will look to secure a series win for #10 TCU.