TCU left-hander Brandon Finnegan was the master of his domain for the better part of nine innings Friday, but the 27th out proved to be the most difficult.
Finnegan fed Blaise Salter a fastball on a 3-1 count, and the big right-handed slugger did what cleanup hitters do.
The Michigan State junior blasted Finnegan’s offering over the left-field fence for a two-out, two-run home run in the top of the ninth to lift the Spartans to a 2-1 victory over the Horned Frogs at Lupton Stadium.
Finnegan fell to 0-3 in three career complete games, but he was brilliant on this night for 8 1/3 innings before allowing his only walk with one out in the ninth.
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“We opened the door for them a little bit” with the walk, TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle said. “You have to give them credit for staying in the game.
“I’m proud of our guys, they played hard. It’s tough to swallow.”
The Frogs (8-5) had the tying run on third with two outs in the ninth, but Cody Jones’ hard-hit ball to center was hauled in for the final out.
The Frogs’ 15-inning victory over Dallas Baptist on Tuesday might have cost them a victory Friday. Closer Riley Ferrell, who pitched four innings in that game, wasn’t available against the Spartans (6-6).
Preston Morrison, who will start Saturday, was the emergency closer. Schlossnagle made a visit to the mound after Finnegan walked Cam Gibson in the ninth.
Strategy, Finnegan said, was all they talked about.
Though Schlossnagle said he considered a pitching change, he was committed to staying with Finnegan, and it’s difficult to second-guess that decision.
The junior from Fort Worth Southwest was dominant in boosting his Big 12 lead in strikeouts with 12 against the Spartans, his third double-digit strikeout game of the season.
“I liked the look in Finny’s eye,” Schlossnagle said. “I’ve gone across the world with Brandon Finnegan in Japan,” as a member of the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team.
“If I have to live and die with Brandon Finnegan, that’s OK.”
Said Finnegan, who threw 116 pitches: “I wasn’t tired. [Salter] got what he got and did something with it.”
With a strong south wind blowing in, it was not a hitters’ night at Lupton.
TCU put runners on in each of the first five innings, but failed to bring any of them around.
That changed in the sixth when Boomer White scored on Connor Castellano’s fielder’s choice.
“I felt very good about our at-bats,” said Schlossnagle. “We had some very, very good at-bats.”
TCU and Michigan State play Game 2 of the three-game series at 1 p.m. Saturday.