Game One: TCU 9, Texas 2
With its back against the wall in an elimination game, TCU turned toward fifth-year senior Mitchell Traver. Traver spent a large chunk of the 2017 season recovering from a back injury and has been inconsistent in his opportunities. Through nine starts entering Saturday, Traver had accumulated a 5.13 ERA in 26.1 innings.
Traver, like Friday’s starter Brian Howard, has pitched at the highest level of college baseball. He has made many key postseason appearances, and also like Howard who tossed a shutout against Kansas, he stepped up in his first postseason start of year. Traver said that this outing is a good stepping stone to the NCAA Tournament.
“When you do well, obviously it builds confidence, and you can build off that,” Traver said. “I think the timing is great, but I was just really excited how a lot of guys pitched this weekend, especially the starting pitchers.”
Traver opened his start against the Longhorns allowing a long home run to Patrick Mathis, but he then settled in to retire 21 of the next 25 batters he faced. After the first, Traver gave up just two hits and walked one while cruising to his third win.
Traver’s seven innings and 96 pitches were the most of the season. He has now put together two consecutive solid starts after he allowed only one run in 4.2 innings a week ago against California.
For the third straight elimination game, the Frogs put together a big inning early. The three-run second inning on Thursday against OU was enough for starter Jared Janczak to pick up a win. Friday’s four-run first inning was plenty for Howard to continue the Frogs’ championship hopes. Saturday’s game one brought a four-run first inning gave the Frogs the lead for good, backed by Traver’s best outing of the season.
“I thought it was awesome that the guys came out hot after I gave up that solo bomb and was able to limit the damage to put up a four-spot like that,” Traver said. “So as a pitcher, it is really important to respond the right way.”
Austen Wade led the bottom of the first off by reaching on an error by Longhorns second baseman Bret Boswell. Four pitches later, Zach Humphreys picked up his second RBI triple of the tournament to drive in Wade. Wade’s run was the first of four unearned runs in the inning off Texas starter Kyle Johnston. A ground out from Warner led to the second run, while a walk and a single set Ryan Merrill up for a two-run double down the right field line.
TCU added a fifth run in the second inning as Humphreys drove in Wade who hit a one-out single. The RBI was Humphrey’s fifth of the tournament and 15th of his freshman season. He has seen a large increase in playing time since Luken Baker’s injury, as it has opened up the designated hitter spot in the lineup.
Single runs in the fourth and sixth on an Evan Williams RBI hit and a wild pitch extended TCU’s lead to 7-1.
The Frogs tacked on their final two runs on an RBI triple from Wade in the eighth. An error by the right fielder allowed Wade to come all the way around. Through four games in the tournament, TCU has recorded five triples equaling the total it had in 53 regular season contests.
Trey Morris relieved Traver in the eighth, ending Traver’s day with a line of seven innings pitched, one run, four hits, one walk and a season-high eight strikeouts on 96 pitches.
“It felt great,” Traver said. “Rule number one is to put your team in a position to win a ballgame, and I felt like I did that.”
Morris allowed one run on three hits while striking out two to close out a 9-2 victory and force a second game.
Game Two: Texas 9, TCU 3
The Horned Frogs were on the wrong end of an early big inning in game two, as Texas pushed across three runs in the top of the first and never let go of the lead behind a strong performance from Fort Worth native Blair Henley, a freshman who attended Arlington Heights.
“I thought [Texas] played really well in the second game,” Schlossnagle said. “They out-played us in every phase. I thought Blair Henley did a great job, and we couldn’t match him early on the mound.”
Haylen Green got his second career start but struggled from the beginning. The first two Longhorns reached base before a sac bunt moved both the runners over. A sacrifice fly and two run-scoring singles put Texas in front 3-0.
TCU made noise in the second inning when it cut the lead down to one. A walk and an error set up Josh Watson for a sacrifice fly and Williams for his second RBI hit of the day.
The Frogs held it close with Charles King on the mound in relief after Green was pulled in the third inning, but two singles and a two-out three-run home run by Michael Cantu in the fifth pulled Texas ahead 6-2.
Jake Eissler did his job in relief for two innings, but he and Dalton Brown combined gave up two runs on two hits and three walks in the eighth to extend the Longhorns’ lead to 8-2.
The Horned Frog bats were silent from the third inning on, providing little pressure on Texas. TCU got one unearned run and managed just four hits over the final seven innings.
Texas added one run in the top of the ninth on a home run off Durbin Feltman to make the final score 9-3.
For the week, the Frogs averaged six runs per game while hitting for a .261 average. The Frogs’ starting pitchers combined for a 2.10 ERA in 30 innings while giving up only 20 hits and five walks. The bullpen hurt the team as they pitched 15 innings over the tournament to the tune of a 9.00 ERA with 11 walks and 20 hits.
One of the bright spots for the Horned Frogs’ lineup in the tournament was the top of the lineup duo of Austen Wade and Zach Humphreys. The two hit 13-36 (.361) with four triples, eight RBIs and 10 runs scored. Additionally, Elliot Barzilli returned to his 2016 form with a 9-19 tournament performance, raising his season average from .221 to .243.
“Not much, other than the socks,” Barzilli joked when asked what changed for him to get hot at the plate. “Other than that, I just stick to my routine and go about it every day the same way.”
For a TCU lineup that clicked well for the majority of the tournament, a major eye-opener was the lack of production from the third and fourth hitters. Skoug and Warner combined to go 5-40 (.125) on the week with 12 strikeouts. If the Frogs push deep into the NCAA tournament, the middle of the order will need to return to elite form.
Picking up three wins in Oklahoma City likely solidifies the Frogs as a top eight national seed in the NCAA Tournament.
“I am really proud of our team,” Schlossnagle said. “We have been at home two days in the last 19 days. We have been on the road for awhile and I feel like we have done what we are supposed to do throughout the course of this season, regular season and the conference tournament, to put ourselves in the position we want to be in.”
TCU will host a regional at Lupton Stadium next weekend and should be in line to host a super regional if they take home the regional title.
The NCAA selection show will be aired on ESPNU at 11 a.m. on Monday, May 29.