You knew it wasn’t going to be easy.
Even after the Horned Frogs jumped out to a 7-1 lead after the first inning, TCU fans had seen enough of Kansas State over the last week to know better than to think Kansas State would just roll over and die Saturday night in Oklahoma City.
And, much as they had done at this time last week, the Wildcats made a furious rally in the late innings to put TCU Baseball on the ropes. Thankfully, this time it ended with the right shade of purple celebrating.
Austin Krob got the start for TCU, and much like game one today, and error got the Cats offense going. After a one pitch groundout, a single and an error on the pickoff attempt put a runner in scoring position, and the first run came home after an RBI double.
The Frogs answered right back though, doing more damage on offense before collecting their first out than they did in all of game one Saturday morning. The first six batters reached safely, with Porter Brown earning a walk and Zach Humphreys and Brayden Taylor ripping back to back singles ahead of a Hunter Wolfe two run double. That chased Kansas State starter Dylan Phillips, and TCU a huge advantage as the bullpen shrank for KSU.
The new pitcher didn’t matter much: Austin Henry looped an RBI base hit and Phillip Sikes made it 4-0 with a knock of his own. After Gray Rodgers hit into a fielder’s choice and took second on a wild pitch, Luke Boyers had a huge base hit, scoring two more with the help of an error. The final run of the frame came when Porter Brown reached base for the second time in the first, this time via RBI base hit.
The Cats added a run each in the third and fourth inning, the last ending Krob’s day. The TCU starter went just four innings Saturday, allowing three runs — two earned — striking out four and walking two. The short stint was not what the doctor ordered with TCU having had to play through the loser’s bracket and a well-rested Oklahoma State waiting on the other side.
The Frogs matched the Cats’ lone run in the fourth with one of their own, making it 8-3 after Tommy Sacco scored on a Taylor double. Drew Hill took over on the mound to start the fifth and was exceptional once again: he had a 1-2-3 fifth that ended with a double play called due to interference and a perfect sixth.
That’s when things got interesting.
With a 10-3 lead, the Frogs should have been sitting pretty, but again, we have seen enough of this Kansas State team to know better. They made a furious rally in the seventh, collecting a single and a double against Hill to start the inning. After a strikeout and a walk, Hill was lifted in favor of Augie Mihlbauer — who had thrown 17 pitches just a few hours prior in TCU’s loss to the Cats Saturday morning.
It’s not often you see a pitcher pitch twice in a day: for one, the opportunities for that to happen are rare, and secondly, it’s a lot to ask a young pitcher to go through the physical and mental process to get ready to take the mound twice in one day. But Jim Schlossnagle asked Mihlbauer how he felt, and according to the skipper, “he wanted the ball.” He also needed to think ahead for Sunday and next week’s Regional series. “Augie hasn’t pitched much lately or this year. He saved his best for last. This time of year, you do things like that [pitch him twice in one day]. That saved us. I didn’t want to use Haylen — I can’t pitch him three days in a row — yet. Him finishing that game gives us a better chance tomorrow.”
Mihlbauer started strong, getting a strikeout on a beautiful pitch to make it two outs with the bases loaded. But things fell apart from there, with a single and a double cutting the lead to just three and putting all the pressure on the “home” team in a must-win game. The Frogs were never really worried, even if that fan base was. “There was never a thought of ‘here we go again’”, Zach Humphreys said. We’re a good offense, we are a good team. You get in these tournaments and teams are using their seventh, eighth pitchers and you know there are going to be a lot of runs scored. We are confident that we are going to fight back no matter what situation we are in.” Schloss stuck with Augie and he rewarded him by striking out Caleb Littlejim to get out of the inning and made quick work of the Cats in the top of the eighth with a 1-2-3 frame.
TCU fans were certainly thankful for a little insurance, which the Frogs provided in the form of two straight base hits — Brown and Humphreys — and a Taylor walk to load the bases with one out. A two run base hit down the left field line off the bat of Hunter Wolfe made it 12-7, Gray Rodgers added two to make it 14-7, and if there was a stiff breeze reaching OKC at that moment, it was just the Frog Fam exhaling. “Coming through the loser’s bracket, we were light on pitching,” Schlossnagle added. “You don’t want to overuse anybody — we have more baseball to play next weekend. Every single run counts.”
TCU did to Kansas State in the eighth what they did to TCU a week ago in the ninth. And the stakes were nearly as high. The Frogs put the Cats to pasture for good when Rodgers and Sacco singled around a Nunez walk, the later clearing the bases with the help of another K State error. When the centerfielder airmailed a throw to third to try and get Elijah on the basepaths, the ball squirted into the dugout allowing TCU to put their 17th run on the board and save themselves an inning by way of the run-rule.
Porter Brown was excellent on offense once again, collecting three hits and a walk. After the game, Schloss credited him for “being one of the few players on our team staying on the baseball, using the whole field, and consistently having competitive at bats, especially among the left-handed hitters.” Joining him with multi-hit games were Humphreys (3), Taylor (2 hits and 2 RBI), Wolfe (2 hits and 4 RBI), Rodgers (2 hits and 2 RBI), and Sacco (2 hits and 2 RBI). Every started collected at least one hit as the Frogs exploded for 17 runs on 17 hits with four walks and just five strikeouts. In a lovely turn of events, they left just four runners on base across the entire game. Maybe TCU is back hitting their stride at the right time. And at a time when it’s hardest to do.
“We were regular season co-champs, but this tournament win would be the icing on the cake,” Humphreys said. “Sometimes I think winning a tournament title is actually tougher; it shows that you are a complete team.”
Playing Oklahoma State for a fourth time won’t be easy, something Schloss and Humphreys both alluded to, reminding folks that all three wins were in come from behind fashion. “Oklahoma State is a really good offensive team playing their best baseball right now,” Schlossnagle said. “Those were some big time battles in Fort Worth.” Humphreys agreed, adding “they are playing some of their best baseball now; I really thought they were one of the best teams we played. They’re a good team, it’s tough competition — that’s what you want in a championship game. I am excited, you can’t wish for anything better.”
“If there is a championship to be won, we want to win it.,” Schloss said. “We already won one this year — I know some people are saying we didn’t deserve it, but I am not going to apologize for it. Tomorrow, we have a chance to win another one.”
First pitch is scheduled for 5:00pm at Bricktown Ballpark, and TCU is likely to send Johnny Ray or Luke Savage to the mound first, though Schlossnagle said he “might have a rock-paper-scissors tournament” to decide which one. The Frogs should have a fully rested River Ridings and Haylen Green to complement whoever gets the start, and I wouldn’t be shocked if all four guys get a chance against the powerful Cowboys’ lineup.
Winning a tournament title to cap off a shared championship season would truly be another gem in the crown, but even just getting to the game probably locks up a National Seed for TCU Baseball, a stunning achievement after a near total collapse over the last month of the regular season.
But, let’s win it anyway, just to be sure.