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|GAME AT A
Point: Florida State jumped on TCU freshman ace Matt Purke for an unearned run on two singles and a throwing error in the first, but Purke responded by striking out three straight hitters with a runner on third base to limit the damage and steal the momentum.
OMAHA—Maybe it’s nerves, maybe it’s just coincidence, but College World Series first-timers have struggled in their Rosenblatt Stadium openers in recent years. Since the start of college baseball’s modern era (the expansion of the NCAA tournament field to 64 teams in 1999), eight teams have made their CWS debuts. All eight lost their first game.
In the first game of the 2010 CWS on Saturday, Texas Christian had the first-timer jitters, too. They lasted all of two batters.
After Florida State All-American Tyler Holt led off the game with a crisp single and scored on third baseman Jantzen Witte’s two-base throwing error a batter later, Matt Purke took over. Purke struck out the next three batters to wrest away the momentum, and TCU never looked back, cruising to an 8-1 win.
“After that error was made,” said TCU senior catcher and captain Bryan Holaday, “I went out there and said, ‘Hey, this is all on you. Regroup, you’ve done it all year. Things are going to hit the wall and go bad, just regroup and do your thing.’ He threw a lot of hard sliders down and in to righties, and they chased it. Matt did what he needed to do to get out of the inning.”
Florida State third baseman Sherman Johnson was the man stranded on third base by Purke’s three straight strikeouts.
“He did a great job to stop the bleeding,” Johnson said of Purke, “and they kind of used that to start momentum heading into the next half inning.”
Indeed, as Purke sprinted off the mound into the dugout after the top of the first, the Horned Frogs seemed to carry that energy to the plate in the bottom of the frame. After back-to-back singles to open the frame against Florida State starter Sean Gilmartin, Jason Coats hit a two-run double down the left-field line to give TCU a 2-1 lead it would never relinquish. The Frogs wound up sending nine batters to the plate in a five-run first inning.
The Horned Frogs did not play tight like so many Omaha rookies do. They played loose and aggressive, as illustrated by their third inning. With runners on second and third and one out, Brance Rivera laid down a perfect suicide squeeze between the mound and first base, scoring Witte. Taylor Featherston, the runner on second, ran hard around third when he saw Gilmartin field the ball nonchalantly. It took a perfect throw home from first baseman Jayce Boyd to prevent Featherston from making it a two-run sac bunt from Rivera. Instead, Featherston was out by a hair, but TCU led 6-1 at that point, and the game was safely in hand.
Purke made sure of that. The second-team All-American allowed just the single unearned run over seven innings, allowing four runs and four hits while striking out seven. The Seminoles put runners in scoring position in the third, fourth, sixth and seventh innings but failed to scratch out even a run in any of the chances.
“He was making great pitches,” Johnson said. “It seemed like when guys got on base, it was crunch time and he really buckled down and threw the ball well. Tip your hat to him.”
Purke used his 90-94 mph fastball to get ahead in counts, then used his 78-81 power breaking ball as the putaway pitch for all seven of his strikeouts. Holaday did a fine job blocking balls in the dirt all game, and the Seminoles chased pitches to an uncharacteristic degree.
“We knew going in it was going to be a challenge for Matt, because Matt’s really good at getting hitters to swing at pitches in the zone that then fall out,” TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle said. “Florida State’s very patient, and it’s uncharacteristic of Matt to walk four guys.
“I thought that Matt threw really well when he had to . . . You got to see what we saw all year: The more pressure he’s facing, the more he’s cornered, the better he is, and that’s really indicative of our team as well.”
Omaha newcomer or not, TCU is a veteran club, and Schlossnagle and his staff have done a fine job preparing it for the CWS. Holaday talked about how Schlossnagle has allowed the team to see the sights of Omaha but has separated the off-field spectacle from the on-field business.
And Holaday, who went 3-for-5 with a homer, and the other TCU veterans have taken care of the rest.
“We talked all year about having fun,” Schlossnagle said. “The practices belong to me, the games belong to them. I just wanted them to have fun and play with some swagger. We’ve been very consistent with that all long.”