FORT WORTH, TX — The way Austin Krob was pitching Friday night, it felt like TCU Baseball would need just one big inning.
It didn’t start like that, though.
In front of a capacity crowd that seemed on the very edge of their seats for most of the night, the Horned Frogs started slowly Friday. McNeese State, on the other hand, did not. The Cowboys got to Krob often, using three consecutive singles and a sac fly from the first four batters of the ball game to give the Fort Worth Regional’s #4 seed an early 2-0 lead. TCU answered back in the bottom of the first, cutting that lead in half thanks to a solo home run from Brayden Taylor in his first career playoff at bat — his 11th long ball of the season and first since April 20th.
From there, it was a pitching duel, as Krob retired 11 straight from the second batter of the second inning through two outs in the fifth. McNeese State befuddled Horned Frogs hitters as well, as Jonathan Ellison stranded six would-be runs through 4.2 solid innings of work. After the game, he spoke of the Lupton Stadium atmosphere. “It felt electric, it was awesome. TCU did not let me down on the energy they brought tonight.”
Once the Cowboys went to the pen, things began to change for the Horned Frogs, but it didn’t happen right away. TCU made some noise in the sixth, getting a one-out double off of the bat of Phillip Sikes and a walk issued to Luke Boyers with two down. But a foul out to the catcher on a 2-0 count by Sacco stranded two and ended the inning, and the Frogs left the crowd wanting once again.
That would change in the seventh.
After a very quick 1-2-3 top of the frame for Austin Krob, the TCU offense got to work — and got a lot of help along the way. Cameron Foster, who got the final out of the sixth inning, completely lost the strike zone in the seventh, allowing a base hit to Porter Brown before issuing back to back four pitch walks to Zach Humphreys and Brayden Taylor. That brought up Hunter Wolfe, who was having a tough night — 0-3 with a double play and an inning-ending strikeout looking in his last two at bats.
He was, as they say, due.
Wolfe singled through the left side to put TCU on top for the first time in the ball game, scoring Brown and Humphreys and making it a 3-2 ball game. After Gene Wood struck out and Phillip Sikes flew out, Gray Rodgers roped a two run single back up the middle to give the Frogs a 5-2 cushion. Then, with a runner on first and two outs, Luke Boyers stepped up to the plate and did this:
After the game, Boyers talked about what it meant to hit his first career home run on his home field in his first postseason game. “That was awesome,” he said. “There’s no place else I would rather hit my first home run than at home, especially in a Regional. The crowd made me feel so good — that’s a moment I’ll remember forever.” His coach was equally as excited. “Super fired up for Luke Boyers — what an amazing young man. Good to see the ball go out of the ballpark and him to get some confidence.”
Speaking of confidence... Austin Krob had it in spades Friday night.
“I know the first inning was a little rough — I didn’t want that to go that way,” he said. “But I know that the hits they had weren’t hard contact. Luke’s catch fired me up — I thought ‘they’re laying out for me, I have to do the same thing for them. So I decided to just hammer it down the strike zone and say ‘try hitting it’”.
“I’ve been the one mainly complaining all year about finding consistent starting pitching,” Jim Schlossnagle said. “Austin had given us thoat early in the season, but it’s been a while since he’s given us something like tonight. One thing about our program — our best players seem to perform their best in the big moments.”
The key to Krob’s performance, one that McNeese State coach Justin Hill repeatedly referred to as “special”, was the mental aspect; Krob insisted that nothing had changed for him physically, it was the mental game that made all the difference Friday night. “All mental. When stuff starts not going the way I like it, I start spiraling down. Today I had a slogan” move on. Focus on the next pitch. Win this pitch.” Schlossnagle saw it too, saying, “when you’re not in control of yourself, you can’t be in control of your performance. In the past, he would have been pounding his glove, out of control, screaming at somebody. [After the first inning] I told him ‘you’re doing awesome — no free bases, you kept throwing strikes, it’s going to be fine.”
Fine it was indeed.
With a five run cushion, Krob locked into cruise control, picking up his 13th strikeout of the game in the top of the eighth. The Frogs put another crooked number on the board in the bottom, picking up five runs on five hits, with Sikes, Elijah Nunez, and Tommy Sacco delivering the RBI blows. Krob came back out for the ninth behind a 12-2 advantage, but after giving up back to back base hits to start the final frame, excited to a standing ovation. “It was insane,” he said of the moment. “It was very heartwarming to see everyone up on their feet and applauding me. It wouldn’t have been possible without them — they brought the energy when we needed it. Being at home is really special because everyone is pulling for one thing, and that one thing is the Horned Frogs to win.”
Harrison Beethe, pitching for the first time since April 13th, got two quick outs before allowing a walk and a base hit to make the final margin 12-4, with both runs being charged to Krob. The four runs allowed doesn’t dampen his performance though: 8.0 innings, 13 strikeouts, seven hits and just two walks. TCU didn’t have to tax their bullpen and will have a full complement of arms for tomorrow’s matchup with DBU.
It won’t be an easy one regardless.
“I’ve said all along: thats an Omaha program that hasn't broken through yet. I hope they wait until 2022 to do it,” Schlossnagle said. “Great culture, great energy, they have a plan. It’s two great teams, which is exactly what you want in a Regional — should be a lot of fun.”