When TCU finished third in the Stillwater Regional last season, it wasn't due to a lack of pitching or defense. The Horned Frogs' pitching staff ranked fifth nationally with a 3.63 ERA, and their .976 fielding percentage was sixth-best in the land.
This season, TCU hosted and won its regional, and Sunday's 3-2 win over the Texas Longhorns puts them just one win away from the College World Series.
Although the Frogs' pitching and defense hasn't been quite as steady as last season, the difference has been power. After hitting just 37 round-trippers as a team last season (ranking 179th in the country), they have blasted 67 in 2009.
Through the first two games of TCU's Super Regional against the Longhorns, all seven of their runs have come via the long ball.
The offensive style has helped TCU advance to Monday's deciding third game, but Horned Frogs coach Jim Schlossnagle hopes they can find other ways to score runs.
"I was telling our hitting coach that we do not live and die by the homer," he said. "Because if you do that, your season could end fast. If you've seen us play, we play a lot closer to Texas' brand of baseball than we do to the Oklahoma State or Ole Miss brand of baseball.
"A lot of it is because Texas won't let us do that. We're not getting too many leadoff hitters on."
TCU did have a pair of home runs in Sunday's game, but they won largely due to the efforts of junior starting pitcher Paul Gerrish.
The 6-foot-4, 215-pound righty held Texas to just two runs on five hits in seven innings. He struck out six without walking a batter.
Gerrish shut down the Longhorns in every way imaginable. He consistently worked ahead of hitters and had just four three-ball counts in the entire game.
After watching Winkler fall behind the UT hitters on Saturday, Gerrish says he knew what needed to be done.
"The most important thing in pitching is to get ahead in the count," he said. "They were getting really good swings off yesterday when they had 2-0 or 3-1 counts. That's what I was trying to avoid today."
While Gerrish picked up nearly one strikeout per inning, he wasn't overpowering. Longhorns senior Preston Clark said he primarily used his fastball and began mixing in some offspeed stuff—but not much—in the later innings.
"I thought he did an outstanding job of locating the ball," Clark replied. "He kept the ball down. He mainly pitched off his fastball. That's how he got ahead in the counts. Then later on he started getting the feel for his slider and mixed it up a bit."
Gerrish certainly had UT first baseman Brandon Belt perplexed. The slugger entered the game with just 28 strikeouts in 204 at-bats this season, but he was 0-for-3 with three punchouts against Gerrish.
"I have no idea," said Belt when asked how Gerrish was so successful against him. "He kept getting me on the same pitch over and over again and I just couldn't hit it. Maybe I was trying too hard. That's a possibility."
Cole Green started for the Longhorns, and he was also very good. Like Chance Ruffin the day before, he had very little trouble retiring hitters, but the Horned Frogs punished him by hitting his few mistakes out of the park.
Green began the game by retiring nine of the first ten batters he faced. Then, in the fourth, he served up a two-run homer to cleanup hitter Matt Vern on a hanging breaking ball.
Two innings later, third baseman Matt Carpenter hit a solo shot over the right field wall, giving the Frogs a 3-0 lead.
Carpenter and Vern both hit home runs in game one of the Super Regional, as well.
"We put some good swings on some balls but [Green] pitched pretty well today," Vern said. "We weren't on base a whole lot, and the few mistakes he made, me and Carpenter were able to get it out of the park."
Texas didn't even get a runner into scoring position until the seventh inning, when they posed their first real threat of the day.
Kevin Keyes led off the frame with a double to right field, and DH Preston Clark brought him home with a single up the middle, cutting the Horned Frogs' lead to 3-1.
The ‘Horns began another rally in the eighth when Gerrish plunked pinch hitter Russell Moldenhauer to lead off the inning.
Schlossnagle then turned to closer Eric Marshall, who entered the game with a 1.30 earned-run average on the season.
Marshall got off to a slow start, giving up Gerrish's run on a Brandon Belt RBI single, but he got out of the inning, clinging to a 3-2 lead.
The closer did his job in the top of the ninth, as he retired Brandon Loy, Preston Clark and Cameron Rupp on nine pitches and three ground balls.
With the victory, the Horned Frogs are one win away from reaching the College World Series. Third baseman Matt Carpenter is excited about the prospect, but he's not going to get ahead of himself. There is still one game to win.
"Obviously [a trip to Omaha] is in the back of our minds because that's the ultimate goal," Carpenter said. "It sounds cliche, but we're just going to go out and play the game one pitch at a time."
The three-game series is now tied at one game apiece, and both teams appear optimistic about their changes.
"We're not going to look at it as an elimination game tomorrow," said Preston Clark. "We've got to go out and play ball. If we play loose and relaxed, we're going to win the game."
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