Good things come to those who wait. For much of Wednesday afternoon, the outlook was gloomy for the Horned Frog hitters. However, it was only a matter of time before the clouds parted and the TCU bats made enough noise to bring around the decisive runs in its opening match up of the Big 12 Tournament.
8-seed Baylor Bears and Starting Pitcher Blake Helton took a no-hitter into the 4th inning and kept the top-seeded Horned Frogs off the scoreboard into the 6th. Baylor however was equally unable to get anything major working against TCU pitching, as Brett Walker settled in after surrendering a run in the opening frame.
Walker, who had a strong outing at Globe Life Park earlier this season in a win over Nebraska, saw his pitch count rise as Bear batters kept fouling him off and working deep into counts. Up over 80 pitches to start the 6th inning, Walker allowed a double to Baylor’s star of the day Tre Richardson, which brought a visit to the mound ahead of the power hitting Jared McKenzie. Walker made his case to take on one more batter and it worked out, as he threw three straight strikes to send Mckenzie packing via K for the 2nd time on the day. Caleb Bolden took over to finish the 6th, giving up a single that extended the Baylor lead to two runs. That would be the only hit allowed in 2.0 innings of work.
The Bottom of the 6th saw the TCU offense finally kick into gear as everyone got a 3rd look at Helton. Sacco and Byrne singled followed by a Bobby Goodloe drive to deep left center that just kept drifting, and perhaps aided by miscommunication in the field, the Bear outfielders couldn’t get to it, dropping for a double and scoring Sacco. David Bishop followed that with a fly ball into short left field that Goodloe thought was going to drop - the ball was caught and Goodloe got doubled off at 2nd, but not before Byrne crossed the plate for the tying run.
Augie Mihlbauer relieved Bolden in the 8th with Richardson on base. He was called for a balk on his first action on the mound, putting the go-ahead run in scoring position. Coach Saarloos did not agree with the call and was very nearly ejected before cooler heads prevailed (he stated after the game that the umpire likely made the right call and he got caught up in the emotion of the moment). It proved to not matter as Mihlbauer secured the final outs of the inning to keep the game tied.
The Bottom of the 8th again saw a TCU rally kick-started by Tommy Sacco reaching base, this time via walk. Brayden Taylor followed with a hit to left that advanced Sacco to 3rd. Then the woo-birds came out as Baylor’s reliever threw a wild pitch that brought home the go-ahead run. Kurtis Byrne added to the tally with a single over the 3rd Baseman to bring Taylor across the plate.
The 2-run advantage proved to be enough, as Garret Wright locked down the save with a 1-2-3 9th, including a pair of swinging strike outs.
The Frogs are now on an 8-game win streak headed into a massive Round 2 showdown with Texas on Thursday afternoon. The Longhorns won their opener vs. OK State with a stellar pitching performance from ace Pete Hansen, who tossed 12 Ks in 7.2 innings to shut out the Cowboys and keeping most of the bullpen available for the remainder of the week. It’s likely the Longhorns will throw another ace-caliber starter on Thursday, Lucas Gordon. Gordon tossed 5.2 innings with 4 Ks in a Longhorns’ win over TCU in April. Coach Saarloos indicated post game that Marcelo Perez would get the start for the Frogs; he had a tough showing against the ‘Horns in Austin: 3.1 IP, 4 H, 4 R 4 BB, 1 K in what was eventually a TCU win. The winner of Thursday’s contest will move ahead to Saturday’s semifinal, with 2 chances to reach the Final, while the loser will have to play Friday against the winner of Baylor-OK State.