Freshman pitcher Tyler Alexander allowed only one run in seven and 1/3 innings and TCU’s bats came alive in the bottom of the fourth as the Horned Frogs clinched the series against Kansas State with a 3-1 win Saturday at Lupton Stadium.
Alexander’s second pitch of the afternoon went sailing over the left field wall courtesy of center fielder Riley Kivett, a former Big 12 Player of the Year, but the lefty hurler gave up only three more hits the rest of the way.
“[Alexander] stepped up big time today,” TCU head coach Jim Schlossnagle said. “He gave up the leadoff homer, but he didn’t panic.”
It was Alexander’s sixth win of the season and the Horned Frogs’ eleventh in a row, pushing their season record to 33-13 (12-5 in Big XII). In its last nineteen games, TCU is a red-hot 18-1 and has pulled within a half game of Oklahoma State for the Big 12 lead.
The first-inning homer came on a changeup that Alexander left over the plate for the hard-hitting Kivett, but the pitcher kept his calm and shut down the Wildcat offense for the rest of his outing.
TCU’s hitters were kept at bay early on by an array of defensive plays by the Kansas State outfield. Kivett in particular was a large part in the Frogs’ early struggles at the plate, as he robbed Derek Odell twice on two spectacular diving catches.
Schlossnagle said that he was proud with the way his team responded after Kivett’s run of brilliance.
“I thought Kivett was going to take the game over by himself,” Schlossnagle said. “We just kept swinging the bat and hitting the ball hard.”
The Frogs finally broke through in the fourth inning during a two-out rally.
Boomer White opened the inning with a single to right field, and after KSU left fielder Max Brown made a diving catch to put out Kevin Cron, Garrett Crain moved White to second base on a fielder’s choice.
Jerrick Suiter coaxed a walk out of KSU starter Nate Griep, and a Dylan Fitzgerald single to right brought White home, evened the score, and ended Griep’s outing at 4 2/3 innings.
The Wildcats brought on Jake Fromson to face shortstop Keaton Jones, but Jones took a 1-2 pitch the opposite way for the second triple of his career and scored Fitzgerald and Suiter to give the Frogs a 3-1 advantage, although they would do no further damage.
Both teams struggled to produce offense in the middle innings, as KSU couldn’t crack Alexander and TCU stranded runner after runner on the base paths.
Alexander was finally taken out in the eighth inning after allowing a leadoff single from right fielder Mitch Meyer.
“I could’ve gone longer,” Alexander said, “but my arm slowed down, and I couldn’t get my breaking ball to break faster.”
“With Preston [Morrison] going nine yesterday, we had a full bullpen, so I didn’t question it,” he said.
The Frogs replaced Alexander with Trey Teakell, a right-hander, who struck out both batters he faced before closer Riley Ferrell was brought on to match up with Kivett.
Ferrell induced a lazy fly ball from Kivett, and after TCU went scoreless in the bottom of the eighth, Ferrell slammed the door in the ninth, retiring the side and earning his eleventh save of the year.
The Frogs will look to sweep the Wildcats in the final game of the series on Sunday at 1 p.m. at Lupton Stadium.