With the largest crowd seen at Lupton so far in this juvenile season, TCU Baseball could not disappoint.
They would not.
Eventually beating Kansas State 7-5 Friday night, after a Top of the 9th inning scare, the No. 19 Frogs improved to 16-5, and now 3-1 in the Big 12.
A large part of the win can be credited to starting pitcher Riley Cornelio, who recorded his third straight win, and second straight “quality start”, pitching six innings and allowing only two runs.
We know he’s been hot, but for this sophomore pitcher to keep pitching the way he has been tonight is impressive, to say the least, especially considering the rough season he had last year.
Coming into this one Friday night, Cornelio had pitched 10 scoreless innings in a row, reaching back to the 4th and 5th innings of the Army game on March 12, and the Baylor game on March 18, where he pitched 8 scoreless innings. He continued the streak right to bat, popping up every single batter in the top of the Wildcats’ order, taking only 9 pitches to do so. He dispatched the star of the lineup, Dominic Johnson, the leading batter in the Big 12 (.461 Avg), with ease, needing only two pitches to pop him out.
Then, in the bottom of the 1st, the Frogs taking the plate for the first time, two walks by Elijah Nunez (who successfully stole twice tonight) and Brayden Taylor, and a David Bishop single down the right field line loaded the bases with nobody out. And then Gray Rodgers, up batting with the bases loaded, grounded into a fielder’s choice, and Nunez comfortably made his way to home plate for an early, no out, 1-0 lead.
And then, it what became a theme for the Wildcats throughout this one, a wild pitch and an errant pick-off throw to 1st drove in Taylor and Bishop and turned it into a 3-0 ballgame early.
Coming off an uneventful 2nd inning, Kansas State struck for a pair of runs with two outs in the top of the 3rd, but it wouldn’t matter much, as the Frogs were able to answer in the same inning with a two-spot of their own. Two walks by Taylor and Tommy Sacco, another wild pitch, and a Sacco stolen base loaded the bases for the second time of the night.
And Kurtis Byrne, with the pressure of loaded bases upon him, delivered. A two-run single right up the middle drew home Sacco and Bishop and increased the Frogs’ lead to 5-2.
As it looked like bats were hot early, those who had Over 11.5 in the Over/Under felt comfortable looking at the 5-2 score in the 3rd. But then, Riley Cornelio’s durable arm, which was precise as ever, led to three straight scoreless innings in the ballgame, as he was putting away Wildcat batters like it was nothin’, and by the top of the 7th, the score was still 5-2 TCU.
These three straight innings upped Cornelio’s (3-1) pitch count to a whopping 101 pitches, so by the top of the 7th, Kirk Saarloos pulled Cornelio and looked to the bullpen, replacing him with Luke Savage.
Cornelio had a stellar six innings and kept the Wildcats at bay throughout this one. Battling through a bases-loaded situation in the 6th, he threw his fifth strikeout of the night to keep them loaded, finishing the night allowing only two runs on five hits, and walking three before Savage came in and threw two shutout innings.
Fortunately for TCU, the Frogs picked up a couple of insurance runs in the bottom of the 7th, and these two runs ended up being crucial for the Frogs’ eventual win. Back-to-back doubles by Brayden Taylor and David Bishop turned it into a 6-2 ballgame, and Sacco hit a sacrifice fly, driving Bishop home and extending to lead to 7-2.
Yet, the Wildcats made it a little interesting in the top of the 9th.
Batting against TCU reliever Augie Mihlbauer, K-State pushed across three runs and had the tying runs on base, but, that was enough of Mihlbauer, as Saarloos played it safe and pulled him, replacing him with the Frogs’ true closer, River Ridings.
Ridings had no trouble ending the ballgame, as is often the case with him, recording the final out, and securing his 7th save of the season.
Clearly, those couple of insurance runs were huge.
While potentially a little too close for comfort, this win improves the team to 7-0 at Lupton, and 16-5 overall, while now 3-1 in the Big 12. Cornelio continued to ride his hot arm, allowing only two runs in this one, and, despite the strong Wildcat comeback attempt, River Ridings was able to do what he’s done all season so far, closeout baseball games.
TCU and Kansas State will meet in Game 2 of this series Saturday, at 2 p.m., where Cam Brown will be making the start for the Horned Frogs. The contest will, once again, be televised on Big 12 Now on ESPN+, and you can listen on Radio at 88.7 FM KTCU.