Howard, Frogs complete sweep of Oklahoma State with 5-1 win

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Brian Howard tossed seven innings of one run ball on Sunday, leading the No. 3 Horned Frogs (17-5, 5-1) to a 5-1 win and a series sweep of Big 12 foe Oklahoma State (15-9, 0-3).

“Sweeps are so tough to get, especially against a great club,” said TCU head coach Jim Schlossnagle. “It is hard to do. We had an opportunity to do it last week but didn’t pull it off, but Brian gutted it out, and we got some two out hits.”

The Frogs have struggled to find success from their starting pitchers, with the exception of Jared Janczak. Brian Howard  (3-2) was expected to be the ace of the staff coming into 2017 after turning down a contract offer from the Houston Astros, who selected him in the 17th round of the 2016 MLB draft.

Howard got off to a quick start to open the season, giving up just one run over six innings against Penn State, but has struggled since. After the quality start in the second game of the season, Howard’s ERA bloomed to 7.04 entering Sunday after giving up 17 runs in as many innings over his last five starts. Howard took his turn in each of the three weekend rotation spots and started a mid-week game, but found little success.

Sunday might have been the turning point in the senior’s season though, as he picked up his third win of the year throwing a gritty seven innings on 119 pitches. Howard left the game with a 5-1 lead after giving up just three hits and three walks with nine punch outs.

“I feel like I gave the team a chance to win, which was huge for me. I was happy I was able to put us in a position to win the game,” Howard said. “It wasn’t as clean as I would like it to be from an execution standpoint, but I was able to battle. Those last three or four innings I started really feeling myself, and getting my pitches down in the zone where I need them to be.”

The Frogs had trailed in 16 of their 21 games before jumping out to a first inning lead on Sunday and never falling behind. OSU tied the game in the third, but single runs in the third through six innings opened up a 5-1 Horned Frog advantage that they never looked back from.

Cam Warner dribbled a one-out single up the middle in the first, stole his fourth bag in four tries this season to get to second and then scored on a two out run-scoring single by Luken Baker.

OSU recorded its lone run in the third, benefitting from a couple of Horned Frog miscues. While no errors were charged, the Cowboys’ inning was extended when Connor Wanhanen failed to cover first on the back-end of what would have been an inning-ending double play.

“We didn’t help [Howard] on the double play ball where Wanhanen forgot how many outs there were,” said Schlossnagle. “That cost him 11 pitches.”

The next batter blooped a single onto the outfield grass in no-man’s-land behind second base, allowing the runner to score all the way from first. Howard walked the next batter but struck out the cleanup hitter to end the threat.

TCU immediately regained the lead in the bottom of the third at 2-1 as Warner led off with a line drive opposite field homerun that snuck over the fence, his second homer of the season.

The Frogs doubled their slim lead in the fourth behind a double from Ryan Merrill, a walk from Wanhanen and a throwing error on a Warner ground ball to third.

The margin was pushed to 4-1 in the fifth as a walk, a hit and two stolen bases gave Merrill a chance with two runners in scoring position with two outs. A single to right scored Nolan Brown from third but the inning was cut short as Elliott Barzilli was thrown out at the plate.

The final run crossed the plate in the sixth when Evan Skoug continued to break out of his slump with a single to left field. The hit scored Austen Wade who had reached on an infield single earlier in the frame and drove in Skoug’s sixth run of the weekend.

Howard was pulled heading into the eighth in favor of seldom-used relief pitcher Ryan Burnett. The lefty came into Sunday’s game having only pitched in five games in 2017, compiling just 4.1 innings while giving up five runs. Burnett threw a scoreless eighth, getting three groundballs to work around a one-out single.

Schlossnagle stuck with his veteran pitcher into the ninth, but two straight singles chased Burnett from the game. Jake Eissler came on to finish off the sweep for the Frogs, getting two fly outs and a strikeout to close out an impressive 5-1 victory and record his first save of his career. He is the fourth Frog to record a save this season, joining Durbin Feltman (6), Charles King (1) and Sean Wymer (1).

The Horned Frogs will continue their home stand with two weekday games against UT Rio Grande Valley (16-11) at Lupton Stadium on Tuesday and Wednesday. Both games will start at 6:30 p.m.