The temperature at TCU’s Lupton Stadium was in the 60s for all three games, but the bats for both teams stayed red hot.
After falling to Texas Tech last weekend, #14 TCU left nothing to chance against #8 Oklahoma State, as the Horned Frogs swept the Cowboys in Fort Worth.
With the trio of victories, TCU is now tied for first place in the Big 12 standings with a 10-2 conference record, and was rewarded for the performance in College Baseball Nation’s Top 50 rankings, as the Horned Frogs slid back into the top 10 at #10. It was the first time since week three that TCU head coach Jim Schlossnagle found his squad in the top 10.
Oklahoma State, who entered the three-game set on a five-game win streak, fell to 6-6 in conference action, and with it, dropped six places in the rankings to #14.
TCU showed an ability to thrive in close contests, winning each of the first two games by just one run. It was something seldom seen from the Horned Frogs throughout this season, considering that they were 1-2 in one-run games entering the weekend.
The ability to win close games was the difference in the series, as TCU won games one and two by scores of 9-8, and 8-7 respectively, before dominating offensively in a 12-6 victory Sunday afternoon.
As expected, the bats played a critical role, considering the opponents combined for 73 hits, with Oklahoma State outhitting TCU 40-33. In fact, the Cowboys had more hits than TCU in both games one and three.
But TCU’s key was walks, something the Horned Frogs did 22 times over the course of the series.
That was especially prevalent in game one, a contest in which Oklahoma State outhit TCU 18-13. But TCU drew six walks compared to the Cowboys two, and won 9-8.
At least one run was scored in every inning except the first and ninth in the series opener, as TCU took an early 2-0 lead in the second. Four of the Horned Frogs’ 13 hits came on home runs, the first of which, off the bat of second baseman Gray Rodgers, gave TCU the early lead.
Oklahoma State quickly countered with two runs of its own in the third to tie the score, though TCU retook the lead in the fourth with a two-run frame. The back and forth nature of the contest continued, as Oklahoma State took a 5-4 lead in the fifth.
But the Cowboys had the advantage for just one inning, before TCU scored five runs in the next two innings to lead 9-5. The Horned Frogs sealed the victory on two, eighth-inning home runs from right fielder Phillip Sikes and shortstop Tommy Sacco in consecutive at bats. Oklahoma State plated one run in the seventh and two in the eighth but failed to overcome TCU’s late-game surge, as the host won 9-8.
Austin Krob, typically the Saturday starter, threw game one for TCU. He was challenged by Oklahoma State’s bats, and made it through just 4.2 innings, allowing five runs, before the bullpen took over.
Saturday’s contest followed a similar pattern, only the roles were reversed. Oklahoma State fired the first blow, as third baseman Christian Encarnacion-Strand drove in Trenkle on a hard-hit double to deep center field off an 0-2 count in the first. TCU did not score until the third, but took a 3-2 lead in the fourth on a nicely placed double down the left field line by designated hitter Hunter Wolfe.
As good as Wolfe’s RBI double was, it paled in comparison to what the redshirt senior accomplished in his final two at-bats.
The Kingsport, Tennessee product swatted a crucial two-run homer over the center field wall to tie the score at seven in the seventh, as the home crowd rose to its feet. An equally loud, if not louder roar was heard inside the ballpark two innings later, when Wolfe came through with a clutch walk-off single past the left side of the infield to give TCU the come-from-behind, 9-8 victory.
Wolfe’s late-game heroics dimmed TCU starter Russell Smith’s rough outing, as Smith allowed seven runs in six innings, and failed to tally an out in the seventh. But reliever River Ridings closed the contest with 2.2 innings of scoreless, hitless work, and did not allow a single base runner while earning the win. Ridings also threw 0.1 innings in Friday’s win.
The floodgates then opened on Sunday, as TCU entered the series finale with a clear advantage.
The Horned Frogs captured a 12-6 win, their 10th of the year in Big 12 play, behind multi-hit performances from Elijah Nunez, Brayden Taylor, Sacco and Sikes.
Nunez cut the deficit to 4-3 in the fourth, swatting a triple that ricocheted off the right-center field wall and scored runners from second and third. The Horned Frogs then tied the score, as Nunez raced home on a sacrifice fly from left fielder Luke Boyers.
TCU never looked back, and pulled away in a seven-run eighth, highlighted by a grand slam from Taylor that put the Horned Frogs ahead for the first time in the contest, 10-6.
One player that stood out throughout all three contests was Taylor, a freshman who received little attention during the preseason but has emerged as an able-bodied power hitter as of late. He hit a home run in every game of the Oklahoma series, a sweep for TCU, as well as in the following midweek game against Tarleton State. His home run streak drew to a close during game one of the Texas Tech series, but he flashed his power once more on Sunday afternoon.
Oklahoma State was led offensively by Encarnacion-Strand, who has now hit safely in 16 straight games. The former JUCO all-American went 5-for-12 with six RBI and two home runs.
Though Oklahoma State fell in all three games, the fact that the Cowboys remained competitive, and led at least once in each contest showed that they are not a team to be counted out in the Big 12 race.
In fact, the back and forth nature of the series was something Schlossnagle noted postgame.
“A lot of back and forth,” TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle said of the OSU series according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “We’re still a work in progress on the mound, but the highlight was really our offense and the grittiness of our players. They never panicked. They continued to have good at-bats.”
While the sweep was a huge NCAA tournament resume-builder, Schlossnagle made it clear that he will expect more from his starters moving forward.
“We need more consistent good starts rather than consistent just okay starts,” Schlossnagle said according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “We gave up 18 hits on Friday and still won the game. But if we’re going to win this conference and advance in the postseason, we have to pitch better against those teams. We did it against Baylor and Oklahoma, so we are capable of doing it.”
Oklahoma State hosts its next five games, including a two-game midweek set against Arkansas-Pine Bluff and a critical weekend series against #5 Texas.
TCU hosts its next four, facing UT Arlington Tuesday before Kansas travels to Fort Worth for a weekend series.