HOUSTON--Texas A&M and Texas Christian have played each other in super regionals in each of the last two years, with the Horned Frogs winning both series. But while their NCAA Tournament battles have made them familiar foes, they rarely meet in the regular season.
That changed Saturday when the Shriners Hospitals for Children College Classic brought together the two powerhouses for a showdown at Minute Maid Park in Houston. It was the first regular-season game between the two old Southwest Conference rivals since 2012, and it did not disappoint.
After getting down early, No. 1 TCU erased a five-run deficit in the ninth inning and came back to defeat No. 25 Texas A&M, 11-10, in 15 innings. Ryan Merrill delivered the game-winner, a walk-off double to the gap in right-center field, just before 2 a.m. local time, some five hours and 51 minutes after the game began.
-- TCU Baseball (@TCU_Baseball) March 5, 2017
TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle said Saturday's game was typical for a game between the Horned Frogs (9-1) and Aggies (9-2)
"Anytime these two teams get together, you're pretty sure it's got a chance to be a zoo," he said. "That's what happened."
The game began with A&M scoring five runs in the top of the first inning against lefthander Nick Lodolo. While many of the Horned Frogs played in at least one of the super regionals against the Aggies, this was Lodolo's first experience in the rivalry.
It did not go as well as Lodolo would have hoped, as he struggled with his command and didn't make it out of the first. A&M scored five runs on four hits--including a three-run home run from Walker Pennington--a walk, a hit batter and two errors. The lefty, who was the highest drafted player last year not to sign, did strike out two batters, both on curveballs.
TCU was not about to give in, however. The Horned Frogs have trailed in seven of their 10 games this season and have an offense that is never out of the game. They pushed a run across in the bottom of the first and two more in the sixth and the seventh innings.
Still, going into the bottom of the ninth, A&M held a 10-5 lead. But the Aggies bullpen, still a work in progress, lost the strike zone. Cason Sherrod and Kyle Richardson combined to walk five straight batters to start the inning. An RBI single from Austin Ingraham and an error on third baseman George Janca--his second of the game--allowed TCU to tie the game.
Lefthander Kaylor Chafin was finally able to end the inning, stranding runners on second and third. It was just the first of a few escape acts for Chafin, who would later get out of a bases-loaded, no-outs situation in the 12 inning. He threw 6.1 innings of relief before eventually taking the loss.
TCU had some bullpen heroes of its own. To cover the 14.1 innings, the Horned Frogs used six relievers, including four freshmen from their fifth-ranked recruiting class. Sophomores Sean Wymer (5 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 9 K) and Durbin Feltman combined to throw six hitless innings during extra innings.
The Horned Frogs combined for 26 strikeouts, breaking the program record of 19 set exactly 12 years ago. The Aggies chipped in 20 strikeouts, and the combined total of 46 was the second-most in Division I history. Akron and North Carolina State combined for 51 strikeouts in a game in 2009.
Schlossnagle said he couldn't remember ever being a part of a team that threw five freshman in one game. But the experience they got Saturday and what some of them showed will help the Frogs.
"Sometimes things happen in a season (that) you don't like, but it helps you learn about your team," Schlossnagle said. "Wymer was outstanding and we're a better club. We would have been a better club after today had we even lost the game because we learned a lot about our team."
A&M coach Rob Childress said he learned a lot about his team in defeat.
"I'm very proud of where we are through 11 games this season," he said. "Certainly disappointed we didn't win, but there were a lot of heroes tonight and that's what we're going to try to focus on moving forward. When we get into those spots again we'll be able to draw from tonight."
Not only will Saturday's game serve as a teaching tool throughout this season, it will not soon be forgotten by the fans at Minute Maid. The three games Saturday drew a total of 21,843, many of whom were there for the nightcap.
The result was a wild atmosphere for a game at the beginning of March. It was a fitting chapter in the A&M-TCU rivalry.
"I mean golly," Schlossnagle said. "What do you say between the games we've had against these guys over the course of time? What's awesome is that the fans get after each other, but there's a lot of respect between our program and their program, a lot of respect from player to player and coach to coach. I'm sure we'll probably see them again at some point before the year's out.
"It was a classic game in a classic tournament."