In the first of three games against ranked SEC opponents this weekend, the Frogs (8-1) hit two early home runs to erase a three-run deficit and take a commanding lead over the Tigers (8-2).
Down 4-1 in the top of the second, eight and nine-hole hitters Ryan Merrill and Connor Wanhanen walked with one out ahead of a three-run bomb to right field by leadoff hitter Austen Wade. Wade’s home run was his third of the season, and it gave him nine RBI’s through nine games.
Later in the inning, Evan Skoug recorded his second hit of the night, setting up Luken Baker to hit a high fly ball that sailed into the seats in left field, giving the Frogs a 6-4 lead. Baker’s long-shot gave him the team lead with four on the season, also making him the first Frog to 10 runs batted in.
Preseason All-American junior RHP Alex Lange (2-1) got the start for LSU, coming into the game with a 0.82 ERA in 11 innings over two starts. When Baker homered giving the Frogs the lead, Lange was pulled from the game, recording just five outs and giving up six runs on five hits and three walks.
“The scouting report is well known, you have to lay off his breaking ball because he throws it more out of the zone than he does in the zone,” TCU head coach Jim Schlossnagle said. “We laid off enough, and then the more you see a pitcher, the more comfortable you’re going to be facing them.”
Lange threw 65 pitches, only 36 of which were strikes, a stat that can be attributed to the mature approach the Horned Frogs had at the plate throughout the whole game. Seven of the 13 batters that Lange faced worked three-ball counts. By game’s end, that number reached 15.
“I was really proud of our guys’ at-bats, obviously against Lange, but even throughout the game,” Schlossnagle said. “We had good, deep-count at-bats.”
TCU’s senior RHP Brian Howard (2-1) seemed to be having an outing similar to Lange after giving up four first-inning runs, but the veteran settled in and got through five solid innings, surrendering just the four runs while striking out six.
Howard’s first inning was not as bad as it seemed though, as LSU was the beneficiary of a several softly-struck singles.
Trailing 1-0 after an RBI double by Josh Watson in the top of the first, LSU lead-off hitter Cole Freeman hit an infield single to shortstop. Howard retired the next batter before the Tigers dumped two nearly identical singles over the head of second baseman Cam Warner into no-man’s-land, tying the game at one.
Five-hole hitter Josh Smith chopped a ground ball to right field scoring two, before freshman Jake Slaughter hit a run-scoring double off the wall in left field, giving the Tigers the 4-1 lead.
Returning to the mound just an inning later with a 6-4 lead, Howard ran off four shutout innings before being taken out in favor of freshman RHP Charles King with one runner on base and no outs in the sixth.
“Howard just came out and attacked with early strikes,” said catcher Evan Skoug. “In the later innings he did a really good job of limiting that pitch count, and just making them get themselves out.”
King inherited an 8-4 lead after TCU added two-out insurance runs in both the fifth and the sixth innings. Warner drove in the run in the fifth with a single to left field, tying Baker for the team lead in RBIs at 10. Skoug drove in his seventh run of 2017 on his fourth single of the night in the sixth.
Skoug doubled his season-long hit total with a 4-5 night. He entered the game hitting just .138 (4-29), a number that now sits at .235.
King tossed three consecutive shutout innings to begin his outing, effectively sealing the Tigers’ fate. In his first three innings of work, King allowed only two runners to reach base, stranding them both and striking out two.
TCU added a run in the ninth giving King a 9-4 lead with three outs to go. The defense got sloppy in the bottom of the inning, as Merrill and King both made poor throws on potential double-play balls. LSU pulled within three runs on two unearned runs, but King was able to retire the final two batters he faced, closing out the 9-6 win.
King recorded his first career save, now the third different TCU pitcher to get a save this season. Through four relief appearances, King has a 2.31 ERA over 11.2 innings with 12 strikeouts.
“He changes the pace of the game,” Schlossnagle said. “He’s got to develop a better breaking ball, but his fastball has so much life.”
The Horned Frogs will play No. 15 Texas A&M (9-1) in game two at Minute Maid Park on Saturday night. The Aggies are coming off a 9-0 win against No. 10 Texas Tech on Friday.
“We always love playing against SEC teams,” Skoug said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun, we love playing A&M. It’s a big in-state rival, and we always bring our “A” game because we know they are bringing theirs.”
Freshman LHP Nick Lodolo (2-0, 2.70 ERA) will battle sophomore right-hander Stephen Kolek (1-0, 1.64 ERA). First pitch is set for 7:05 p.m.