The Frogs trailed the Bears all afternoon until their breakthrough in the eighth inning. Senior right fielder A.J. Balta, the team’s MVP of the tournament, ripped his second home run of the ballgame. His two-run shot pushed the Horned Frogs ahead of Baylor for his thirteenth RBI of the tournament, 4-3.
Balta became the second player in this year’s tournament to hit two home runs in one game. His 13 RBIs led the entire Big 12 Championship field.
The Bears threatened in the eighth inning as they placed two runners on the basepaths with no outs. The combination of sophomore Cal Coughlin, sophomore Nick Lodolo, and junior Sean Wymer were able to record two strikeouts and a flyout to strand the baserunners. Coughlin hit third baseman Davis Wendzel and surrendered a single to first baseman Andy Thomas to put the runners on the base.
Coming into the game, TCU was 27-0 when leading after eight innings. Today’s collapse pushed their record to 27-1.
The sun proved to be TCU’s worst enemy in the ninth inning. Junior centerfielder Johnny Rizer and Balta both lost fly balls in the sun to allow Baylor to score the tying run. Rizer dropped shortstop Nick Loftin’s blooper for a double. Loftin scored as Balta, making a rare mistake in the tournament, dropped a fly ball off designated hitter Richard Cunningham’s bat.
“It’s like a punch in the stomach,” senior designated hitter Michael Landestoy said. “We had to regroup and we went back to our routines. We still had a ballgame to play.”
A one-run double in the eleventh inning by Conner Shepherd to score sophomore catcher Zach Humphreys looked to be the difference maker in the ballgame, putting the Horned Frogs in front of Baylor, 5-4, until the bullpen ran out of arms.
First-year pitcher Austin Boyles, TCU’s tenth pitcher of the afternoon, could not find the strike zone but TCU’s lack of depth forced him to stay in the ballgame.
Balta kept the Frogs in front as he collected Cunningham’s single in right field and threw out BU second baseman Josh Bissonette charging home looking to score from third on the play. Boyles would then pitch two consecutive walks, walking home the tying run, Loftin, and allow the game-winning single to catcher Shea Langeliers, scoring Cunningham from third base.
He pitched 0.2 innings but allowed two earned runs on two hits. He walked three batters and struck out one.
Boyles was credited with the loss. It’s his second of the season.
“That’s as tough of a loss that I’ve ever had,” head coach Jim Schlossnagle said. “That was a game we didn’t deserve to win. We gave up too many free bases by not throwing strikes. You’re not going to beat any teams doing that. We just had a couple freak things happen.”
Baylor’s high-powered offense did not need long to get runs on the board as TCU’s starting pitcher, sophomore Haylen Green, allowed three runs on two hits in his first inning of work.
A routine groundball got the Bears’ offense rolling as a throwing error by first-year shortstop Adam Oviedo put Baylor’s leadoff man, Loftin, on base. A four-pitch walk to Cunningham put runners on first and second with no outs. With two runners on base, Wendzel roped a ball over the left field wall to give Baylor an early three-run lead.
Green would allow three baserunners following the home run but would keep the Bears off the scoreboard for the rest of his outing. He finished the night with three runs allowed on three hits in 2.1 innings. The sophomore walked two Bears and fanned three.
The Horned Frogs began to chip away at Baylor’s lead in the second inning. Senior first baseman Connor Wanhanen worked an eight-pitch at-bat and homered to deep, center field for TCU’s first run of the ballgame.
The Bears pulled their starter after two innings of work. Hayden Kettler entered the contest sitting at seventh in the conference in individual pitching with an ERA of 3.62 while allowing a hitting clip of .249. He allowed one earned run on three hits while striking out three Horned Frogs.
Jimmy Winston replaced Kettler in the third inning. He surrendered the second run of the afternoon as Balta pulled the Horned Frogs to within one run with a two-out bomb over the right-field wall in the third inning.
TCU hit three home runs in the game. This ties a record for team home runs in a single game during this year’s tournament.
Winston’s one run allowed came on one hit. He struck out three Horned Frogs and walked two. Winston’s reliever, Joe Heineman, kept the Horned Frogs off the scoreboard in his two innings of work as he struck out two Horned Frogs and allowed only one hit.
Baylor threw five pitchers, four of which threw two innings and one, Tony Montemayor threw for three innings. Wanhanen said the inability to get used to a single pitcher was not the cause of TCU’s demise this afternoon.
“We’ve been doing that all week and it’s happened during the season,” Wanhanen said. “It was never really a big concern for us. It was a matter of trying to string quality at-bats together with runners on base which we weren’t able to do.”
TCU went 1-7 with runners in scoring position, their only such hit came when Shepherd scored Humphreys from second base.
Sophomore reliever Jake Eissler replaced Green in the third inning and immediately made his presence known. He came out of the bullpen hot as he retired the first six batters he faced. Overall, he retired 13 of the 15 batters he faced. He allowed one hit and fanned six Bears, walking none.
“He was awesome,” Schlossnagle said. “Eissler was outstanding but we had the chance to win the ballgame with an All-American closer in the game. It just wasn’t meant to be today.”
The Horned Frogs had an opportunity to tie the ballgame in the sixth inning as junior centerfielder Johnny Rizer tripled to center field with only one out. Humphreys would fly out to centerfield and a Wanhanen strikeout stranded Rizer at third base.
With the loss, the Horned Frogs are now 2-1 in Big 12 Championship games. TCU’s slim postseason fate is placed in the hands of the selection committee.
“We got swept three times in our league,” Schlossnagle said. “We’ve played well late. If we were to get lucky and get in, I think we would play well. Our fate shouldn’t be up in the air, we should have won the ballgame today.”
The Horned Frogs earned four spots on the All-Tournament team: Balta, Rizer, Wymer, and Eissler.