A day after scoring 16 runs on 17 hits the TCU offense forgot how to swing the bat.
New Mexico pitchers had 13 strikeouts, including five times when they caught Horned Frogs’ looking at the third strike, as the Lobos won 5-2 at the Mountain West Conference tournament at Earl E. Wilson Stadium on the campus of UNLV.
It wasn’t a day to leave the bat on your shoulder with winds blowing out in gusts of 45 mph.
No. 20 TCU (36-18) will try to stave off elimination at 5 p.m. today against San Diego State (25-33) in an elimination game. Andrew Mitchell will start for the Frogs. The winner meets New Mexico (35-22) at 9 p.m. tonight in the MWC championship. The Frogs will have to win both games today to force a playback championship at 3 p.m. Sunday. The Lobos have reached the championship in four of the last five seasons, including last year when they twice beat the Frogs en route to the title.
Relief pitcher Bobby Mares was a primary reason for the Lobos’ success a year ago against TCU. Friday night he was at it again.
Mares struck out six Frogs in the final 2 1/3 innings to earn his fifth save. Trailing 3-2 in the seventh, TCU had the tying run at second with one out when the left-hander Rudy Jaramillo came in to face the left-batting Kyle Von Tungeln. Von Tungeln struck out looking. Mares then came in to face Josh Elander and caught him looking to end the inning. The Lobos struck out 10 of the last 14 batters they faced.
The Frogs had the leadoff batter on base five of the last six innings but failed to bring them home. In the fourth, Derek Odell was stranded at third when Keaton Jones struck out looking. Von Tungeln singled to right to start the fifth but a double play and Kevin Cron strikeout ended the inning. Jantzen Witte struck out on a passed ball and reached first to lead off the sixth but the Frogs failed to move him. In the ninth, down 5-2, Jerrick Suiter collected his third hit of the game and moved to second on a wild pitch but Mares struck out Odell, Rivera, and pinch-hitter Zac Jordan to end the game.
“We had three opportunities with runners in scoring positions and we didn’t even swing,” TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle said after a lengthy postgame pep talk with his team. “That’s very tentative when you’re playing in a ballpark where all you have to do is swing. Good things are going to happen if you put the ball in play. It’s either going to bounce over someone’s head or it’s going to blow out of the ballpark.”
That’s what TCU did early. Brett Johnson doubled and scored on Suiter’s liner to center field to give the Frogs’ a 1-0 lead in the second inning. Josh Elander’s eighth home in the third inning extended the lead to 2-0.
Starter Preston Morrison was pitching well and led 2-1 entering the bottom of the fifth when a person in the Lobos’ dugout flipped the wrong switch trying to turn on the dugout heater and inadvertently turned off the stadium lights. After the 15 minute delay the Lobos jumped on Morrison with three consecutive hits, including Kyle Stiner’s leadoff double. He scored to tie the game on Alex Allbritton’s single to center field.
Two TCU errors in the infield led to the Lobos’ go-ahead run in the fifth. New Mexico tacked on a run each in the sixth and seventh and collected 13 hits.
TCU was held to seven hits and just one in the final four innings. Morrison (9-1) allowed four runs in six innings and picked up his first loss of his career.
“We hear guys moan about Lupton Stadium all year long and we get to this place and decide not to swing,” Schlossnagle said. “I’m not the guy standing in the batter’s box so maybe we have to give more credit to New Mexico’s pitching. I don’t know. What I do know is as soon as they stepped in the box with runners in scoring position they swung. If we’d just swing and see what happens... we just weren’t aggressive. If you put six more balls in play, we probably get three more hits. The one thing you can’t do on a day like this is strike out.”
Lobos’ starter Gera Sanchez (8-2) lasted 6 1/3 innings and held the Frogs to two runs on six hits with six strikeouts before letting the bullpen take over.
“He pitches with a lot of aggression,” Schlossnagle said of Mares. “He clearly has a lot more want-to on the mound than we have want-to at the plate when we face him for some reason. He’s a good pitcher.”
If the Horned Frogs want to win the MWC tournament in their last year in the league they’ll need to start swinging more freely and play with more abandon than tentativeness.