OMAHA—Nothing’s come easily for Texas Christian this postseason.
The Horned Frogs have proven their mettle in white-knuckle games repeatedly in the last three weeks—six of their seven NCAA tournament games have been decided by one-run—so they weren’t going to be fazed by finding themselves in another one Sunday at the College World Series. After falling behind late, TCU pulled out a win its final at-bat for the fourth time in the tournament, scoring twice in the bottom of the eighth to beat Texas Tech 3-2.
|Game At A Glance|
|Turning Point: Texas Tech looked like it had all the momentum after taking a 2-1 lead in the top of the eighth, but TCU rallied against Red Raiders closer Jonny Drozd with a two-spot of its own in the bottom half. Cody Jones’ infield single brought home the tying run, with help from a throwing error from TTU second baseman Bryant Burleson, and Boomer White put TCU back in front two hitters later with a clutch two-out RBI single.
The Hero: Preston Morrison ended up not figuring in the decision, but the Big 12 pitcher of the year was certainly the star for most of the afternoon for TCU. Pitching against the only team to rough him up during the regular season, Morrsion struck out a career-high 10 and posted his 15th quality start out of 18 outings on the year.
You Might Have Missed: Late inning rallies aren’t exactly commonplace at offense-stifling TD Ameritrade Park, so Sunday’s game was a treat on that front. It was the first time the lead changed twice in the eighth inning or later at a CWS game since 2009, when Texas knocked off Southern Mississippi 7-6.
“I’m not telling you I’m very comfortable with it, but these guys are,” TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle said. “And they don’t panic a bit. It’s just, let’s put together some good at-bats and see what happens. And honestly I try to stay out of the way because they’re very comfortable in playing in close games.”
The Horned Frogs have shown an ability to come up with big hits when they need them most—see their ninth-inning rally in super regionals against Pepperdine as well as what happened Sunday—but the Frogs have gotten this far thanks to their pitching, and for seven innings, pitching was the story Sunday as well.
TCU entered the CWS at No. 1 in the country in ERA and WHIP, thanks in large part to a deep rotation fronted by juniors Brandon Finnegan and Preston Morrison. Schlossnagle certainly couldn’t go wrong choosing either, but Finnegan has been the Frogs’ Friday starter just about all season, while Morrison had his worst start of the year when he faced Texas Tech in the regular season, getting knocked out after just two innings. Yet Schlossnagle choose Morrison to face the Red Raiders Sunday.
“I know there were some eyebrows raised when we decided to go with Preston,” Schlossnagle said. “But I felt like that was the best matchup, and it’s a pretty easy decision when you have to choose between the Big 12 pitcher of the year (Morrison) and a first-rounder (Finnegan).”
Finnegan has the louder arsenal, but Morrison has proven he can beguile hitters with his low-to-mid-80s fastball and array of angles and movements, carrying a 1.32 ERA into Sunday. The righthander is typically not a big strikeout pitcher, but he racked up a career-high 10 on Sunday while allowing just five hits and two walks over 7 1/3 innings. His low 70s slider was especially tough to handle, and Texas Tech didn’t get a runner past second base until after Morrison was out of the game.
“That first outing (against Texas Tech), that wasn’t me at all,” Morrison said. “I didn’t have any control. My stuff wasn’t as sharp as it usually is and today was more of a typical outing for me. My slider was on point. I was able to locate my fastball when I needed to and threw a couple of changeups for a couple of outs. But overall, I just had more confidence and I was able to make my pitches when I needed to.”
TCU took an early lead when Cody Jones led off the first inning against Tech’s Chris Sadberry with a double into the left-field corner and later came in on a sac fly from Boomer White. Jones’ run was the first allowed by Texas Tech pitching since an extra-inning loss to Miami in regionals—the Red Raiders had pitched three straight shutouts since.
However, Sadberry established a rhythm quickly and stymied the Frogs for the next six innings. The junior lefthander hit 94 mph early on before settling more into the 88-91 range, mixing in sliders and even a few changeups that he doesn’t normally use much. TCU only got one other runner in scoring position before Sadberry departed after seven innings.
“I thought Sadberry was great,” Schlossnagle said. “He really didn’t do anything other than he threw some changeups late in the game that he doesn’t normally throw or hadn’t featured against us before. I thought he executed pitches outstanding, but it wasn’t anything we weren’t expecting. He had good life to his fastball and command. Threw his breaking ball enough.”
The Horned Frogs’ pitching carried them a long way, but they needed their offense to get them over the finish line.
Red Raiders star Tyler Neslony had been having a quiet postseason—just five hits in six games—but he struck what looked like it would be the game’s deciding blow, a two-run triple off hard-throwing TCU closer Riley Ferrell that put Tech up 2-1 in the top of the eighth. Tech coach Tim Tadlock said after the game that he had already decided to pull Sadberry even before his team took the lead, and with the lead he deployed senior closer Jonny Drozd.
As good as Drozd has been, bringing a 2.00 ERA into Omaha, the Frogs were probably just as happy to see Sadberry exit. And being in another close game late certainly wasn’t going to bother them.
No. 8 hitter Keaton Jones led off the bottom of the eighth with an infield single and was sacrificed to second. What followed was what Scholossnagle called the at-bat of the inning, a seven-pitch battle between Drozd and leadoff man Cody Jones that ended with Jones bouncing a ball up the middle. Tech second baseman Bryant Burleson made a nice play to his right to glove it but then uncorked a wild, ill-advised throw toward first, allowing Keaton Jones to score and Cody to reach second.
“My biggest deal was to stay as calm as I could, take as many deep breaths as I could,” Cody Jones said. “And I tried to stay back and get a pitch that I could hit early and put a good swing on it and hit it hard somewhere on the field. But once I got down two strikes, I knew I had to just sit back and fight and try to put a ball in play and try to let my legs work.”
Two hitters later, left fielder Boomer White pounced on Drozd’s second pitch for an RBI single to left field, the only of TCU’s three hits in the inning to leave the infield. Jones raced home with the go-ahead run, and Ferrell put the finishing touches on TCU’s fifth one-run win in the NCAAs by staving off a two-on, two-out threat from the Raiders in the top of the ninth.
“It’s just like the basketball tournament,” Schlossnagle said. “I mean, there’s two national seeds here (TCU and Virginia). So whoever thought—I know we have some committee members in the room—but they felt those were the best eight teams. We had two of them show up here. That’s because in the game of baseball, it’s the team that plays the best. If you get hot and you play the best, then you can be the national champion. And so we would much rather be the team playing the best than the very best team.”