Eye black worn thin, purple jerseys coming untucked, and hats with the effectively simple arched TCU logo across the front given character with the special baseball brand of dirtiness.
Faces showing a combination of exhaustion and elation.
Such is the scene when you’re fresh out of a dogpile and days away from a trip to Omaha after a 6-5 victory in the Super Regional finale.
In a back-and-forth game representative of the series as a whole, the number of runs scored in the game was roughly the same as the distance in feet the winning hit traveled. A suicide squeeze play with one out in the ninth inning was the difference for the TCU Horned Frogs in a one-run, comeback victory over the Pepperdine Waves Monday afternoon at Lupton Stadium.
Catcher Kyle Bacak, the Frogs’ no. 9 hitter, stepped to the plate with runners on second and third and laid down a perfect squeeze bunt on the second of back-to-back sliders he saw. Bacak said he wasn’t expecting a squeeze call when he stepped up to the plate.
An RBI double from Dylan Fitzgerald set the stage for Bacak. Fitzgerald, who was asked to bunt and failed on the first two pitches of his at-bat, laced a two-strike pitch down the right field line to tie the game at five. Garrett Crain and Jerrick Suiter reached base to start the ninth for TCU, who never led through eight innings.
“That’s kind of the story of our season,” first baseman Kevin Cron said. “Someone finds a way to get it done when it matters.”
It was a redemption of sorts for Fitzgerald, who misplayed a fly ball in the first inning that led to the Waves’ first run of the day.
Riley Ferrell, who inherited two runners with no outs in the eighth, let one inherited run cross the plate on a sacrifice fly before recording six outs and earning the win. He struck out Bryan Langlois with runners on first and third to punch TCU’s ticket to Nebraska.
“When I got that first strike I knew I was going to get [Langlois] out,” Ferrell said. “As soon as they got that first runner on I was like ‘that guy’s definitely not scoring’, there’s no way that guy was going to go through me and score there.”
Pepperdine took an early lead against TCU starter Tyler Alexander.
Brandon Caruso lifted a two-out, two-run home run over the left field fence in usually pitcher-friendly Lupton Stadium in the second inning off of Alexander. Baseball Renaissance Man Aaron Brown singled home the first run of the game after Fitzgerald’s mishap in the first inning.
The three-plus innings made up Alexander’s shortest outing since April 19. Jordan Kipper, who hadn’t pitched since the first game of the Big 12 tournament, threw four-plus innings of relief before handing the ball over to Ferrell
Consecutive two-out hits plated runs for the Frogs in the second and sixth innings. Bacak hit a soft single through the right side in the second for the first TCU run, and it was the nos. 3 and 4 hitters that came through in the sixth. Boomer White’s first hit of the series was an RBI single to right that cut a two-run deficit in half, and Cron smacked an RBI double over the third base bag in the next at-bat.
Cron homered in the fifth inning, marking the first TCU home run at Lupton Stadium in exactly one month.
Aaron Brown, the hero of Game 2, homered into the Pepperdine bullpen in the fifth and doubled off the center field wall to set up the go-ahead RBI in the eighth. Waves head coach Steve Rodriguez said he got all he could ask for from Brown and his offense heading to the ninth.
“Our Superman hits a laser off the wall, they bring in Ferrell and we’re still able to score,” Rodriguez said. “We bring our closer on and…know they need to get some hits to beat us, and they did.”
The one-run TCU win concluded a series with a combined margin of victory of three runs.
“I can’t imagine a more balanced Super Regional,” TCU head coach Jim Schlossnagle said. “Two very similar teams. The way they competed, the energy they had in the dugout, I felt like I was looking in the mirror.”
The suicide squeeze bunt appears to be brilliant execution in a coaching Chess match by Schlossnagle, but he gave credit to coach Bill Mosiello for the call. He had talked with his coaches all week and before Monday’s game about a squeeze bunt in a situation with the game on the line.
“That’s not my call,” Schlossnagle said. “That’s why coach Mo is here. He changed the mentality of our team and in our offense.”
TCU struggled to execute early, stranding eight runners on base through four innings while digging the early hole. But 13 total hits, a flurry of which came with two outs, led to the comeback win in Game 3. The Frogs are now 3-13 when trailing after eight innings this season.
The first game of the College World Series for TCU will be against Texas Tech Sunday at 2 p.m. TCU is the third Big 12 team, all from Texas to clinch a spot in Omaha this season.