TCU Baseball had their opportunities Friday, and will likely be kicking themselves for all the chances that went by the wayside in Friday night’s series opening loss to Texas. TCU lost for the first time in a series opener despite the fact that Lupton was basically back to its old self, well above the 50% capacity that had been the benchmark to this point in the season.
Both teams scored early, as neither Russell Smith or Ty Madden were especially sharp in the opening frame. The Horns got to Smith via a pair of extra base hits while the Frogs benefited from a pair of UT errors — though neither unit produced a crooked letter on the scoreboard.
The story of the night would be runners left on base; TCU stranded two in the first then went in order in the second and third. When Texas pushed a run across in the fourth the Frogs answered, sparked by a Conner Shepherd leadoff triple. Shep replaced Gene Wood who was injured sliding back to first after a first inning single and made the most of his early opportunity, scoring the second run of the game for the home team and tying things back up.
Back and forth the game would go: Texas added a run in fifth and the sixth, TCU in the sixth and the seventh. A solo shot in the eighth provided the difference for Texas, though the Frogs had the tying run on third in the bottom of the ninth with one out and couldn’t bring Brayden Taylor home.
In arguably the biggest start of his career, Russell Smith lasted just four innings, allowing two runs on four hits with three walks and three strikeouts. In just his second game back from missing time for “mechanical issues”, Smith through 76 pitches, just 44 of which were for strikes. Chuck King relieved him and struggled with his control as well, allowing two runs on four hits with two walks in just 1.2 innings of work. Drew Hill was sharp across 3.0 frames, but ultimately took the loss as he was on the mound when Texas hit the game winning home run.
TCU’s normally potent offense stranded 11 runners and struck out ten times, as Texas got over 100 pitches out of starter Ty Madden and unusually strong work from their bullpen, highlighted by Tanner Witt (2.0 shutout innings) and Aaron Nixon’s save, that included two ninth inning strikeouts. The pen walked just one batter in three frames, and though Madden wasn’t at his best, he made winning pitches when he needed to.
Three of TCU’s 10 hits came off the bat of Hunter Wolfe, the only player in purple to string together a multi hit game. Shep’s triple was the only extra base hit of the night, and two of TCU’s hottest hitters — Sikes and Rodgers — really struggled, stranding five runners between them while going 0-9 with a walk at the plate.
It has to be one of the more frustrating losses of the season; the Frogs never trailed by more than a run but never seemed in control of what was happening. The pitchers struggled to throw strikes — with the exception of Hill and River Ridings, who got one pitch on one out — and TCU was forced to burn through some of the best of their bullpen in game one of what is certain to be a grueling series. The game was long (four-ish hours), there were tons of reviews, and the strike zone was all over the place for both teams.
One of the more burning questions of the evening and the last week: where is Haylen Green? TCU’s best reliever has not pitched since the Kansas series, and information around whether he is injured or not and how seriously if so has been hard to come by. If TCU doesn’t have that arm in their arsenal, the Omaha dreams get a lot tougher to make into reality.
But, ultimately, this can just be one loss, and with a win tomorrow it’s a whole new weekend. TCU still controls its own destiny when it comes to the Big 12 crown — but they need to bounce back if they want to continue to be able to say that.
They’ll get the chance at 2:00pm Saturday behind Austin Krob and what is certain to be another magical environment at Lupton.