The game was all but over.
Preston Guillory forced a groundout of NC State’s Andrew Knizner to end what seemed like a marathon top of the eighth inning Monday night in the Fort Worth Regional Championship.
Down 8-1 to the North Carolina State going into the bottom of the eighth, TCU’s season was done. The careers of five seniors – who have played more than 800 games combined – were over. After another shocking late-inning meltdown, it appeared All-American closer Riley Ferrell’s career was over. 46 wins, a Big 12 Championship, and much more seemed to fade away as a catastrophic inning drew to a close.
And then it happened.
Five walks, three errors, two passed balls, two balks, five timely hits, and seven runs later, the Frogs found themselves swarming Elliott Barzili after his game winning RBI single in the bottom of the tenth inning.
To fully comprehend this epic 9-8 win for TCU in extra innings, one must look at the pieces which have gotten the Frogs to this point.
It starts with the pitching staff. While the eighth inning Monday was tough to watch, this pitching staff has been hard for opponents to watch all year.
The pitching staff sports a 2.38 ERA and opposing hitters are hitting .219 against TCU. The Frogs have held opponents to three runs or less in 37 of 59 games this season.
The starting staff, composed of Mitchell Traver, Tyler Alexander, Preston Morrison, and Alex Young, has combined to go 34-8 with a 2.34 ERA this.
Alexander was superb in Sunday night’s 8-2 win. He carried a perfect game into the sixth inning of his complete game victory, in which he allowed only three hits and two runs.
The bullpen has been lights out too. The Frogs are 43-2 when leading after eight innings and have one of the best 1-2 punches in baseball with Trey Teakell and Riley Ferrell coming out of the pen.
In 70 2/3 innings this year the duo has allowed 14 earned runs.
While Ferrell struggled, Teakell was at his best against the Wolfpack on Monday. He shut out NC State over three innings of work and kept the Frogs in the game.
Even with Ferrell’s struggle Schlossnagle still trusts in Ferrell.
“He’s the best pitcher that’s ever stepped on this campus in that role. But nobody’s perfect, and everybody goes through slumps,” Schlossnagle said.
Teakell isn’t the only senior who’s contributed. Garrett Crain provided the first hit of Monday’s rally, legging out an infield single in the eighth to cut the Wolfpack lead to 8-2.
Crain had been struggling in 2015 with his average dropping below .230, but he has come on as of late. He collected his first three hit games of the year in the final two games of the regular season against Oklahoma.
Crain was 5-for-15 in the regional, including an inside the park home run in Saturday’s 5-4 loss to NC State.
Cody Jones also contributed, scoring the final run of the eighth to cut the deficit to one. Jones, the Big 12 Player of the Year, has set the table in the leadoff spot as good as anyone in the country.
His .378 average and .480 on base percentage lead the Frogs and he has five home runs to go along with 32 RBI.
Keaton Jones was 2-for-3 with an RBI in the win. Jones has never been considered an offensive player, but he’s been as clutch in key situations at the plate as anyone on this team.
And Jeremie Fagnan provided a two RBI single in the eighth, before executing a crucial sacrifice bunt in the tenth. His bunt set up Barzili’s game winner.
Fagnan said he would have done whatever it took to get the bunt down.
“If I had to bunt it with my face I would have,” Fagnan said. “I was just trying to get it down.”
His game winner sets up a Super Regional matchup at Lupton Stadium with Texas A&M this weekend, beginning Saturday at 2:00 p.m.
Texas A&M leads the all-time series 160-88-4. TCU claimed the last matchup, a 10-2 win that eliminated A&M from the 2012 College Station regional.
Senior Derek Odell was pivotal in that win. He was 2-for-5, including a go-ahead solo home run in the third inning of the rout.
Odell was named to the 2012 College Station Regional All-Tournament team.
Texas A&M fared better in their 2015 regional, winning the championship game over California 3-1 on Monday night.
Like TCU, A&M had to come out of the loser’s bracket after dropping a 2-1 decision in 14 innings to the Golden Bears on Saturday.
Texas A&M started the 2015 season with 24 consecutive wins, an SEC record. A&M comes into the Super Regional 49-12.
And if this former Southwest Conference rivalry didn’t have enough storylines, the 12th man added another.
Texas A&M fans flocked to gofrogs.com to buy reserved tickets for this weekend after TCU athletic director Chris Del Conte tweeted a promo code ‘TCU15’. The code was initially sent via email and the tweet has since been removed.
Hours later, all reserved seats were sold out. And the A&M fan base has been active on social media reacting to the leaked code.
With stolen ticket promotions, a 100-year old rivalry, the 12th man, and the Woo Birds all coming into play there is no telling what fans at Lupton Stadium are in store for this weekend.
But with only two Texas schools left in the NCAA Tournament, only one question remains: who in the state will reign supreme?
We’ll know soon enough.