A hard-hit ball off a pitcher’s chest isn’t usually cause for a team to celebrate, but it was for Florida Atlantic on Sunday at Lupton Stadium. With one out and in the ninth inning, a shot up the middle off the bat of TCU catcher Andrew Walker looked like it would send the Frogs home with a three-game series sweep, but instead turned into the double play that sealed a 4-3 victory for the Owls.
The Frogs looked poised to steal a win from the Owls after pushing a run across and loading the bases with no outs in the ninth, but following a fielder’s choice, Walker’s screaming one-hopper deflected off the chest of FAU reliever Mike Crotta straight to second baseman Tyler Stevens. Stevens flipped to the shortstop who threw on to first for the double play.
“If he doesn’t hit the pitcher, it’s through,” TCU head coach Jim Schlossnagle said. “He smoked it, but it didn’t work out that way. They made the plays.”
Left-hander Brad Furnish, making his first start since throwing a no-hitter against Stephen F. Austin on Feb. 19, took the loss but threw the ball well for the Frogs. He struck out 11 in 7.1 innings, allowed three earned runs on eight hits and only walked one.
The Owls plated an unearned run in the first after Furnish made an errant throw trying to gun down a runner who left early on a steal of third.
The Frogs attacked the left side of the infield to tie the game in the fourth, driving three ground-ball base hits into the hole between the shortstop and third baseman. Center fielder Ryan Pack drove in third baseman Matt Carpenter for the run.
Owl pitchers ran into some wildness with two outs in the seventh, walking four batters to give the Frogs a 2-1 lead.
FAU starter Brandon Cooney walked the first two Frogs in the inning before giving way to the bullpen. The Frogs didn’t get many good swings in on Cooney, who struck out five in 6.2 innings and allowed five hits and two walks.
“He was a lot better than a lot of us thought their Sunday guy would have,” TCU shortstop Bryan Kervin said. “He was throwing fastballs and mixing in the curveball and hitting his spots – staying down mostly.”
As soon as the Frogs took the lead, FAU started pecking away at Furnish, scoring three runs on four hits in the eighth. Designated hitter Ovy Ramirez and first baseman Mike McKenna delivered the big blows in the inning, driving in the tying and go-ahead runs respectively with sharp singles into center and right.
Schlossnagle went to the mound after Ramirez’s at bat, but after a conference, elected to leave Furnish in the game. He said he made the decision out of faith in Furnish and the lack of a lights-out option in the bullpen.
“I had confidence in (reliever Dillon) Farish, I just thought Furnish – he was only at about 100 pitches – I thought he had enough left in the tank.” Schlossnagle said. “Certainly if we had a knock out guy (in the bullpen) who could have given us something, it would be nice to have that guy. Right now, we haven’t developed that guy.”
Furnish said he hit a lot of success hitting the corners all day and made good pitches in the eighth, but he gave FAU credit for changing its approach at the plate when it needed to.
“All day long I was going in and out and they weren’t really making any adjustments, or they were trying to do too much with it,” Furnish said. “That inning, wherever I threw the ball they went with it, or if I threw a ball in, they pulled it. They made the adjustment and the ball started going where we weren’t.”
The Owls moved to 7-8 with the win. The Frogs fell to 8-6, but Schlossnagle said the team will be able to build on a solid series against FAU.
“I’m really pleased with way we played for three days,” he said. “It’s the best three days of baseball we’ve put together. Just because you put those types of days together, it doesn’t mean you’re going to win.