Needing a three-game sweep, Oklahoma came to the plate in the bottom of the ninth in Thursday’s series opener down by one run and facing the Big 12 saves leader – TCU’s all-time career leader.
Even the heart of Oklahoma’s lineup couldn’t do much facing a potential first-round draft pick who touched 97 mph. TCU closer Riley Ferrell struck out two batters and helped TCU clinch its first Big 12 regular season title with a 5-4 victory.
“It's a crucial series for us as far as postseason ramifications, as far as Big 12 regular-season standings so guys, they're emotionally invested,” Oklahoma coach Pete Hughes said. “When you play good and have opportunities to win and you don't, it hurts.”
Oklahoma (32-23, 13-9 Big 12) put itself in a position to win. The Sooners scored four earned runs on Horned Frogs’ starter Alex Young, who had never allowed more than three in any game this season.
The Sooners banged out 12 hits on the nation’s best pitching staff – and one of the top starters in the country – but stranded two runners on base in the fourth, fifth, sixth and ninth innings.
“We had every opportunity to win that game,” said right fielder Taylor Alspaugh, who was stranded on second base in the bottom of the ninth. “That’s what hurts. We’re out here trying to win every game obviously. Coming toward the end of the season, every game means something.”
TCU (41-9, 16-5) won its ninth straight Big 12 Conference game, its seventh straight overall and picked up its 15th win in the last 16 games. It was Oklahoma that gave its chances back to the Horned Frogs late.
In the bottom of the eighth, left fielder Hunter Haley was narrowly thrown out at home plate trying to score the go-ahead run. Hughes said Haley, who has been hampered this season by a hamstring injury, hesitated briefly rounding third. A half inning later, there was no one to cut off catcher Anthony Hermelyn’s throw to second base, and the Horned Frogs’ winning run came home on an error.
Two of TCU’s five runs came with two outs.
“You can't create scoring opportunities for a team that's that good, and you have to score when you have your opportunities,” Hughes said. “Can't leave runs out on the field. You can't give a team that many opportunities, and that's what we did. We had a chance to win that game. We had a chance to win it late.”
The series continues at 6 p.m. Friday as Oklahoma looks to maintain a hold on third place in the Big 12 Conference. West Virginia upset Texas Tech on Thursday night, and Oklahoma remained one game ahead of the Red Raiders.
“We just have to come out fighting,” Alspaugh said. “We’re guaranteed four more games. We have to come out fighting for every single one of them.”