TCU baseball was literally the last team picked to appear in a regional tournament, and the injury-laden lizards arrived in Fayetteville ready to spit blood all over their opponents.
Game 1: Friday, vs. Cal
Horned designated hitter Hunter Wolfe blasted a double in the first inning, and a Golden Bear throwing error helped TCU secure an early lead. Jake Guenther parlayed a single into an eventual run thanks to another Cal error in the third. Wolfe, continuing his momentum from the Big 12 tourney, hit a leadoff home run to start the fifth inning. Chaos erupted for Cal in the sixth when the Frogs added four hits to a walk and another error to equal six runs and break the game wide open 9-1. Cal went straight to the elimination bracket as the Frogs won 13-2. Pitchers Brandon Williamson and Charles King finished four innings each and shut down the Bears helped by almost errorless fielding and superior run support from their offense.
Game 2: Saturday, vs. Arkansas
Fifth-ranked Arkansas is worthy of their national ranking. Frog ace Nick Lodolo was the best catalyst for the Frogs to surprise a superior opponent. Lodolo pitched impressively and wasn’t overwhelmed by the imposing Hog offense. Long pitch counts burned his arm in the early innings and required the befuddled purple bullpen too early. TCU lived dangerously throughout the evening. Arkansas loaded the bases in the fourth inning but scored no runs. Lodolo, nearing the end of his effective pitch count, left after surrendering a single to start the sixth. Haylen Green relieved and fielded a short dribbler that was consequently dropped by shortstop Adam Oviedo at second base, which allowed the Razorbacks two runners that eventually morphed into loaded bases. The Hogs mashed a laser that ramped up the pitcher’s mound and into short centerfield for a double that scored two runs. A double scored one more, leaving TCU in a 3-0 hole in the sixth. Three runs doesn’t seem daunting on paper, especially considering TCU’s vaunted offense of late, but trailing against Hog hurler Isaiah Campbell was a ticket to nowhere. The junior pitcher dominated the zone and dispatched purple batters quickly and efficiently. Campbell averaged only one strikeout per inning but forced fly balls and easy grounders that his fielders gobbled. The Arkansas ace matched his career best by pitching eight innings while allowing only four hits. Frog cleanup hitter Austin Henry managed to find home from a sacrifice fly in the seventh, but the Frogs lost 3-1 and prepared for an elimination game.
Game 3: Sunday, vs. Central Connecticut State
No offense to Frog pitcher Dawson Barr, but he wasn’t the best starting arm remaining. Coach Jim Schlossnagle was saving his best for the finals. Barr surrendered runs early enough to be pulled by the third inning. Fortunately, Guenther caught fire, blasting a two-run homer in the first inning, and reached base every time he batted. The Blue Devils held the lead twice against the Frogs, but another solid sixth inning solidified a trip to the regional finals as Fort Worth’s finest eliminated Central Connecticut 9-5. The scariest yet most magical moment of the afternoon was watching outfielders Johnny Rizer and Josh Watson collide like runaway freight trains in pursuit of a gap shot that Rizer caught and secured to end the sixth just milliseconds before the impact exploded the sunglasses off his face and both players lay lifeless for almost a minute near the warning track. Both players were cleared to return to the game.
Game 4: Sunday, vs. Arkansas
The Frogs needed to beat the Hogs twice consecutively to advance to a super-regional to face Ole Miss, a team possibly tougher than U of A. They didn’t. Jared Janczak, the only ace left in the hole, surrendered three runs in the first inning in front of a packed stadium of raucous Razorbacks. It wasn’t fun to watch. Arkansas pitching punched nails in the purple coffin and allowed only five hits and no runs. TCU had been picked for a regional only by the skin of their spiny tails in a season that was below average by program standards. It was a bittersweet Monday for Horned Frog baseball as Lodolo was drafted seventh overall by the Cincinnati Reds – the first pitcher off the board – and the highest pick in program history. Several of his teammates are expected to join the professional ranks. Schlossnagle will have definitive offseason goals to retool a pitching staff that might lose their three best starters to the pros.