By Wendell Barnhouse | firstname.lastname@example.org
FORT WORTH, Texas – Around 11:30 p.m. Sunday night, TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle posted this on his Twitter account:
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”
That’s Galatians 6:9. Faith in the Good Book. Faith between players and coaches. Faith between teammates. Faith was and has been the Horned Frogs' foundation.
TCU did not give and reaped its second trip to the College World Series with a two-run ninth-inning rally that gave the No. 7 national seed a 6-5 Fort Worth Super Regional victory over Pepperdine Monday at a rockin’ and rollin’ Lupton Stadium.
The Horned Frogs join Texas and Texas Tech – the team TCU will face Sunday in Omaha – as the Big 12 has three teams in the CWS for the first time since 2005. TCU and Virginia are the only two of eight national seeds to reach Omaha.
“What’s so special about this trip to Omaha was that our fans were so involved and played such a big role,” said Schlossnagle, whose 2010 team reached the CWS by winning the Austin Super Regional. “I’m glad the players get rewarded with a trip to Omaha. They’re taking me and my family to Omaha. The players play.”
TCU was down to its last three outs and trailed Pepperdine by a run. The Frogs (47-16) had spent the entire game trailing or tied – down 1-0, tied 1-1, down 3-1, down 3-2, down 4-2, tied 4-4 and down 5-4 heading to the top of the ninth (TCU had lost a coin flip to determine the home team.)
But a clutch RBI double by Dylan Fitzgerald tied the game at 5-5 and put runners at second and third. With one out, catcher Kyle Bacak was at the plate against Waves closer Eric Karcher, Pepperdine’s fifth pitcher. Third base coach and “offensive coordinator” Bill Mosiello gave a heads up to Jerrick Suiter, the TCU runner at third.
"(Coach Mo) told me before Bacak even got up to bat 'look for the squeeze on the 2nd pitch,'” Suiter said. “Once that second pitch came, I had all the faith in the world that Bacak would get it down.”
TCU could have tried to squeeze with no outs and Keaton Jones at the plate. Jones, who was 3-for-4, popped out to second.
“When I was walking to the plate, I wasn’t thinking squeeze,” Bacak said. “After I took a pitch and stepped out and got the sign, it kind of caught me by surprise. But it made sense. I figured he’d throw me another slider.”
Bacak said he felt no pressure even though not making contact would have resulted in Suiter being out at the plate or a popped up bunt could turn into a season-ending double play. Instead, Bacak got the ball perfectly down the third base line. Suiter scored for a 6-5 lead.
“We knew there was a good chance they were going to squeeze there,” Pepperdine (43-18) coach Steve Rodriguez said. “But if they execute it like that, there’s nothing you can do. You hope he bunts it right back to the pitcher and he’s got a chance to make a play.
"We gave them everything we had. TCU was no doubt the better team today. They're a national seed for a reason."
The Waves got a two-run homer from leadoff hitter Brandon Caruso in the second inning. Aaron Brown, the winning pitcher and defensive hero of Game Two, homered to left center in the fifth to offset Kevin Cron’s homer in the top of the inning.
In the bottom of the eighth, Brown doubled off the wall in center field to put runners at second and third. Brad Anderson’s sacrifice fly to right field off TCU reliever Riley Ferrell gave Pepperdine a 5-4 lead.
The ninth inning was a microcosm of the Horned Frogs’ season. Three games over .500 at the end of March, TCU has won 32 of its last 36.
“The players bought in to how we had to approach things at the plate,” Schlossnagle said. “We don’t have a lot of power. We have to work the count, battle on every pitch. Every guy knows his role and buys into that role.
“In the ninth inning we had some things go our way. I think we had earned that because of the quality of our at bats during the game.”
Garrett Crain fell into a 1-2 hole before singling up the middle on a full count. Suiter then just beat out a high chopper to short. Fitzgerald – who in the first inning mis-played a line drive by Caruso into a triple that helped the Waves to a 1-0 lead – battled back from an 0-2 count to double into the right field corner.
“I’m glad he didn’t get the bunt down,” joked Schlossnagle, referring to the right fielder’s inability to twice execute the bunt play.
“It’s been the story of our season, everybody doing their job,” Cron said. “Crain battled to get on. Suiter with hard 90 – what we teach, running hard down the line to beat it out. Someone finds a way to get it done all season. We gave ourselves a chance to have that ninth inning.”
The Frogs drew six walks and faced 187 pitches – an average of 5.5 per at bat. It was grinding and effective.
“Our offensive mentality is to scrap at the plate,” Bacak said. “We just find a way to battle and put the ball in play.”
Ferrell walked the Pepperdine leadoff hitter in the bottom of the ninth. A sacrifice, a ground out and walk had runners at the corners with Pepperdine’s Bryan Langlois at the plate. He swung and missed at a 1-2 pitch at 6:46 p.m. and the Frog pile near the mound seconds later.
“After I walked the first hitter, there was no way he was gonna score. He wasn’t going through me,” Ferrell said. “When I got the first strike on the last hitter, I knew I was gonna get him out.”
(And, yes, Langlois did swing and miss … even though a technical glitch killed the ESPN2 video feed went dark and only the audio of the final play was available.)
TCU freshman Tyler Alexander, who had thrown complete game victories to win the Big 12 Championship and the Fort Worth Regional, lasted just three innings. Jordan Kipper, who last pitched when the Frogs won their Big 12 Championship opener on May 21, went four innings and “held the rope” for his teammates.
“It’s all we’ve ever talked about the three years I’ve been here,” Cron said. “All the 7 a.m. weight sessions, all the practices. Everything we do leads up to this point. It’s a pretty unbelievable feeling.”
Thanks to the faith to believe.