Seven-run fourth inning sends Baseball to Big 12 Championship Game, 7-3

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A fourth-inning explosion sent TCU to their third Big 12 Championship Game in five years as the Horned Frogs plated all seven of their runs in the inning, five of which came with two outs. The Horned Frogs defeated the West Virginia Mountaineers Saturday afternoon, 7-3.

Designated hitter Michael Landestoy beat out a bunt to lead off the fourth inning to begin their biggest inning of the ballgame.

“Getting the leadoff batter on in any inning is huge,” junior left fielder Josh Watson said. “Our pitching staff always talks about keeping the leadoff batter off base.”

Landestoy advanced to second base on a single from junior center fielder Johnny Rizer before the walks began to pile up for West Virginia’s starting pitcher Kade Strowd. He walked three consecutive Horned Frogs to open the scoring for TCU. First-year shortstop Adam Oviedo worked a 10-pitch walk and sophomore third baseman Conner Shepherd worked a seven-pitch walk to score Landestoy and Rizer for TCU’s first two runs of the ballgame.

Landestoy crosses home plate during the fourth inning outburst. Photo by Cristian ArguetaSoto

The Mountaineers would send three pitchers to the mound in relief to silence the fourth-inning outburst.

Strowd was replaced following his walk to Shepherd. He allowed five earned runs on five hits, walking three batters and striking out five.

Shane Ennis, Strowd’s successor, lasted only four pitches and one batter. Watson ripped a two-run double off the right-field wall to extend TCU’s lead to three runs.

Ennis was quickly replaced by Tristan Hudson who lasted only one batter as well. Senior right fielder A.J. Balta increased his RBI totals in the tournament to 10 as he recorded a two-run double down the left field line.

“It’s nice to know that you have a leader who can rally the team and get them going,” sophomore pitcher Charles King said. “It’s hard for someone to come in for their first year at a program and make the impact that he’s made on everybody. His effort and energy make the whole team better.”

Mountaineer reliever Alek Manoah was able to record the final out of the inning on a pop-out by sophomore catcher Zach Humphreys, but not before a one-run double from Landestoy scored Balta to make it a 7-1 ballgame.

Landestoy breaks out the salsa in celebration of his RBI double. Photo by Cristian ArguetaSoto

“Our offense is determined by how Watson, Balta, and Landestoy do,” head coach Jim Schlossnagle said. “We need those guys to drive in those runs and they’ve done a great job this tournament.”

West Virginia took advantage of a lead-off hit from second baseman Kyle Gray to plate the first run of the ballgame in the second inning. A walk to catcher Ivan Gonzalez advanced Gray to second base and an RBI single from shortstop Jimmy Galusky scored Gray for West Virginia’s first lead over the Horned Frogs in the tournament.

Watson’s only hit of the ballgame was his two-run double in the fourth inning. Photo by Cristian ArguetaSoto

TCU’s starting pitcher Russell Smith was pulled in the third inning after he surrendered two walks and a single to load the bases. In his outing, he threw 2.2 innings and allowed one unearned run on two hits. Smith walked four batters and struck out two.

Schlossnagle called on King in relief and he stranded all three runners on the basepath, assisted by a diving Boulware to keep a Gonzalez ground ball in the infield and throw him out at first base.

“I came in with a clear head and a plan of attack,” King said. “I wanted to start with a strike and get ahead. I wanted to fill up the zone and establish my fastball early. I had a great defense behind me that allowed me to roll a ground ball and still get an out.”

Charles King kept a simple focus during Saturday’s victory over West Virginia. Photo by Cristian ArguetaSoto

The Mountaineers cut into TCU’s lead with a run in the fifth inning. West Virginia right fielder Darius Hill singled to lead off the inning and advanced to third on a double from Gray. Hill scored on a groundout from designated hitter Tyler Doans.

West Virginia would add another run from Hill in the seventh for their third run of the ballgame. He doubled off the right-field wall to begin the inning, advanced to third off a groundout by first baseman Marques Inman and scored on a sacrifice fly from Gray.

King was pulled for sophomore reliever Cal Coughlin in the seventh inning following Hill’s run. In four innings, King allowed two earned runs on five hits. He struck out two Mountaineers and walked zero, earning the winning decision.

Coughlin pitched the final 2.1 innings for the Horned Frogs, allowing only one hit and striking out one batter.

“Chuck was really good,” Schlossnagle said. “We caught the baseball behind him and did a really nice job filling up the strike zone. Cal did the same thing.”

Schlossnagle said TCU’s third win in a row in the Big 12 Championship has been highlighted by “very sound baseball.”

“We’ve pitched well out of the bullpen, caught the ball and have gotten timely hits,” Schlossnagle said. “Pitching, defense and timely hitting is the recipe for all good baseball.”

With the victory, the Frogs will match-up with Baylor in the Big 12 Championship Game, winners of 21 of their last 24 games.

“We’re excited to play for a championship tomorrow,” Schlossnagle said. “They’re the hottest team in the country. We’re going to need to play really clean baseball. They’re super talented, very well-coached and have a great plan at the plate. They’re athletic and can beat you in a lot of different ways. They have a very impressive pitching staff. They’re an ‘Omaha’ club in my mind.”

First pitch for tomorrow’ championship game is scheduled for 1:00 p.m. from Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark in Oklahoma City, Okla.