The No. 1 Horned Frogs opened up their weekend in Houston with a statement win against the No. 4 LSU Tigers at Minute Maid Park, riding a 5-run second inning to a 9-6 victory.
The Frogs chased normally reliable LSU starter Alex Lange in less than two innings after homering twice off him in the second, first a three-run Austen Wade long-shot to tie the game at 4-4 before Luken Baker put the Frogs ahead for good with a two-out two-run blast to make it 6-4. Lange’s count had reached 65 pitches when he was pulled in favor of Austin Bane.
“I was really proud with our guys for their at-bats over the course of the whole game,” TCU head coach Jim Schlossnagle said. “Even when we didn’t get hits we had good, deep at-bats.”
Starting pitcher Brian Howard, despite allowing four runs for TCU in the first inning, rebounded with four scoreless innings and six strikeouts over a total of 88 pitches before being relieved by freshman Charles King in the sixth. Howard improved to 2-1 on the season.
“He settled in enough and they hit some balls hard, but he gave us five solid innings after what happened in the first,” Schlossnagle said.
King would go the rest of the way for the Frogs en route to a four-inning, 56-pitch save.
Catcher Evan Skoug also dazzled in the win for TCU, matching his season hit total prior to the game with four hits in his first four at-bats. Skoug only had one RBI to show for it, but his efforts would set the Frogs up for several key scoring plays.
The win, the Frogs’ first of the season over a ranked opponent, propelled them to 8-1 on the season and will likely produce an extra dose of confidence heading into two more tough contests before the weekend ends.
Playing the final game on the first day of the tournament, the Frogs got on the board out of the gate when Josh Watson hit a two-out double down the right field line in the top of the first inning, scoring Elliot Barzilli from third base. And for what it’s worth, two-out hits and runs proved to be the name of the game for TCU Friday night, as five of the Frogs’ nine runs came with two down.
“We had some really good at bats the first inning - guys hitting hard and laying off the pitches we were supposed to,” Skoug said. “Things were starting to fall and we knew we were going to have a successful night.
The early 1-0 lead quickly evaporated though when the Tigers sparked a rally off Howard in the bottom of the inning, assisted by several defensive miscues from the Frogs. Right fielder Greg Diechmann knotted the game at 1-1 when he singled with runners on the corners before first baseman Jake Slaughter put LSU ahead 3-1 with two-run single several batters later. Designated hitter Jordan Romero added another before the inning ended when he singled in Slaughter, all four runs coming with one out.
The LSU lead, however, was short lived. After Ryan Merrill and Connor Wahnahen worked consecutive one-out walks, Austen Wade launched a pitch from Lange just over the right field walks for a three-run homer, erasing the deficit with one swing of the bat. Skoug recorded his first of four hits two batters later with two outs, and that was when Baker launched a pitch over the high-wall in left field to give TCU the lead for good at 6-4.
Three innings later in the top of the fifth, after Nolan Brown worked walk and stole second, Cam Warner blooped a two-out single just beyond the reach of Kramer Robertson, scoring Brown from second to pad the lead at 7-4. The Frogs would follow suit in the sixth when yet another two-out single from Skoug scored Elliot Barzilli from second when he beat a tag at the plate.
“We feed off energy,” Skoug said. “It [good hitting] keeps up the energy in the dugout and it’s just more fun because we know what we can do. We try to have fun with it.”
When the ninth inning rolled around approximately four hours after the first pitch, the Frogs tacked on their final run when Baker scored from second on a wild pitch, assisted by a bad throw to third that sailed down the left field line.
The Tigers wouldn’t go down quietly though, rallying for two runs in the ninth, assisted by a Ryan Merrill error that put runners on second and third with no outs. Though the TCU lead had been cut to just 9-6, King would induce a two-out grounder from Slaughter that sealed the deal for the Frogs.
When it was all settled in the end at 11:15 p.m. local time, Schlossnagle said the game was comparable to those from the peak years of one of baseball’s most notorious rivalries.
“To be honest, it felt kind of like one of those old Yankees vs. Red Sox playoff games where every single pitch was a battle,” Schlossnagle said.
As far as offensive production against Lange, who had struck out 12 batters in one contest as recently as last Saturday against Maryland, Schlossnagle said it was all about putting the scouting report into practice.
“You have to lay off his breaking ball because he throws more out of the zone than he does in the zone,” Schlossnagle said. “When he started to stick a few of them from strikes I got worried but we laid off, and the more you see him, the tougher you’re going to be.”
While the preparation for Lange was certainly a factor for success, Schlosnagle added that the Frogs also benefited from an edge in maturity, which he hopes will bear fruit through all three games in Houston.
“No disrespect to anybody else here in this tournament, we have the most experienced team in terms of age,” Schlossnagle said. “We need to use that to our advantage. I told them here and in Omaha that they’re going to deal with adversity and adrenaline, and you know how to handle that as good as anyone. That’s exactly what happened in this game.”
The Frogs will need to rely on just that as they face the ever-powerful Texas A&M Aggies Saturday night in a rematch of the NCAA Super-regionals from each of the past two years. Freshman Nick Lodolo will look to improve to 3-0 on the season as he is sent to the mound for TCU. First pitch is set for 7:05 p.m.