A two-out, two-run home run in the ninth inning gave North Carolina State the win over the Frogs on Saturday and erased an absolute gem from TCU starter Preston Morrison. But before Shepard even came to the plate in the ninth, a lot of things had not gone the Frogs’ way.
Here are the five most important plays in the Frogs 5-4 loss at the hands of the Wolfpack.
5. Garrett Crain’s inside-the-park home run in the third
NC State starter Brian Brown was cruising; he had retired eight straight TCU batters to start the game. With two outs in the bottom of the third, left fielder Brock Deatherage hesitated on a line drive off the bat of Crain, and it ended up costing NC State a run and its momentum. Deatherage tried to run up and pick the sinking line drive off the ground, but the ball snuck by him and got all the way to the wall. As Crain readied to slide into third, Deatherage’s throw sailed over the cutoff man, giving Crain his first home run of the year and TCU the first run of the game.
4. An out at the plate in the fourth
With a runner on third and nobody out in the top of the fourth, Shepard hit a ball to TCU third baseman Derek Odell. NC State second baseman Ryne Willard took off for home on the play, but Odell gunned him down. Willard took exception to how TCU catcher Evan Skoug blocked the plate and applied the tag, and Willard exchanged words with the umpires after the play.
That play would set the tone for the rest of the game. On the next play, Shepard slid in hard to second base on a double play to end the inning. TCU pitching coach Kirk Saarloos and NC State head coach Elliott Avent got into a heated argument from their respective sides of home plate over what seemed to be about the two plays.
The exchange fired up the two teams and the crowd.
TCU head coach Jim Schlossnagle said the teams were “a little chippy.”
“It’s good, hard baseball,” Schlossnagle said. “College baseball needs more of that. Not dirty baseball — more intense [baseball].”
3. A failed sacrifice bunt in the ninth
It’s ironic that a bunt — something this TCU team does so well — took the wind out of the Frogs’ sails in the ninth inning. Down 5-4 in the bottom of the ninth, right fielder Nolan Brown led off with a double down the left field line. With Brown at second and no outs, shortstop Keaton Jones laid down what was supposed to be a sacrifice bunt.
But NC State pitcher Joe O’ Donnell hopped off the mound and fielded the bunt in time to nab Brown at third base. O’Donnell then got the next two Frogs out to seal the victory for the Wolfpack.
2. A missed double play opportunity in the fourth
Crain’s two hits and two RBIs on the night will probably be overshadowed by a hard groundball in the fourth inning. With no outs and a runner on, NC State’s Bubby Riley hit a potential double play grounder to Crain at second. Crain pulled his glove up on the ball and it got by him, putting runners on second and first with no outs. Morrison then walked the next batter before Willard doubled in two runs.
The error really hurt Morrison. Had the Frogs turned the double play, Morrison would have used four pitches to get two outs in the inning. Instead, he threw 24 pitches in the inning and gave up three runs. Morrison ended up throwing 110 pitches over eight innings. Had the fourth inning gone differently, he might have been working on a complete game in the ninth inning. But…
1. Shepard’s 2-run, game-winning home run in the ninth
It was bad news as soon as TCU’s Riley Ferrell walked Willard with two outs in the ninth.
Ferrell, working to save the 1-run game, struck out the first two batters he faced before walking Willard on five pitches. Then, on a 1-1 count, Shepard took a Ferrell fastball deep to straightaway center to give NC State the lead and the game.
Ferrell, who brought in a 0.67 ERA to the game, has now blown his last two save chances after a rough outing against Baylor in the Big 12 tournament last weekend. He is 32 for 34 in save chances in his career.
“He pitched a thousand times better than in the conference tournament,” Schlossnagle said. “I have full confidence in Riley.”
TCU will try to claw its way back to a regional title on Sunday when it takes on Stony Brook at 2:30 p.m. at Lupton Stadium.