One by one, the seeded giants have fallen this weekend in the NCAA baseball regionals.Florida. Florida State. South Carolina. Miami. That Ragin’ Cajuns team from Louisiana.And that loud thump that loomed late Saturday night was the nationally seeded TCU Horned Frogs.For want of a timely hit — any hit, actually — the Frogs squandered a masterful pitching performance by Preston Morrison and found themselves mired in extra innings for the second consecutive night.With Morrison gone, the Sam Houston State Bearkats made the most of two TCU fielding misplays in the bottom of the eighth inning to tie the score 2-2. Throughout the Frogs’ monthlong drive into the postseason, defense and opportunistic offense had seldom failed them. But both did Saturday night. Two botched fly balls in the first inning led to the first Sam Houston run. The eighth-inning rally began with Frogs second baseman Garrett Crain losing sight of Luke Plucheck’s pop-up. Plucheck came in to score when third baseman Derek Odell failed to cleanly field Hayden Simerly’s grounder. For the Frogs, winners of 28 of their last 31 games, trouble came as simply as that.When your lineup isn’t hitting the ball consistently, all the mistakes can seem large. Morrison’s effort was matched by the Bearkats’ Jason Simms, a senior from Argyle who was a reliever before this season. Simms went seven innings and allowed the Frogs only five hits, four of them singles. TCU had multiple base runners against Simms only in the sixth inning, when they put together a walk, a sacrifice and Boomer White’s single to score their second run. Other than that, Simms only faced one batter over the minimum from the first out of the first inning through the fifth inning.You could blame it on the new bats. That’s always a convenient refrain around college baseball these days. You could also blame it on TCU’s home park, where home runs are spotted about as often as unicorns. But the Frogs have been living — and winning — with all that for the whole season. Pitching and defense have been the Frogs’ bread and butter. And when the latter failed them Saturday night, the timely hitting wasn’t there to save them.Morrison did his thing, going 7 1/3 innings and allowing only three hits. In 15 Morrison starts coming into the tournament, opponents batted only .200 against him. His first inning of the night Saturday, however, was not without controversy. Sam Houston base runner Carter Burgess, sliding into second base, was ruled out for interference, erasing a throwing error that would have given the Bearkats at least a second run. As the night went on, the lost run blossomed in importance.But Morrison did his part. From the second through seventh innings, he held Sam Houston hitless. Stellar pitching, we have been reminded this weekend, tends to abound in the NCAA Tournament’s first couple of days. Stingy pitching helped to speed the end of top seeds Florida and Florida State and send others into the losers bracket.The Frogs labored long into the night Saturday not to become one of them.
Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697 Twitter: @gilebreton