The TCU baseball season comes down to a winner-take-all affair Monday afternoon.
Pepperdine outdueled the Horned Frogs on Sunday evening to even the NCAA super regional series with a 3-2 win in front of 5,620 fans at Lupton Stadium. It’s the third-largest crowd since the stadium opened in 2003 and is the largest postseason crowd ever at TCU.
TCU had won 10 consecutive games, including eight postseason games, before Sunday. The Frogs have won 31 of their last 35. They haven’t lost consecutive games since losing March 29-30 at Oklahoma State.
The Frogs will play as the visitor Monday after losing a coin flip before the series.
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Freshman left-hander Tyler Alexander (10-3) will start the deciding Game 3 at 3 p.m. Monday (ESPN2) against Pepperdine right-hander Jackson McClelland (8-3). The winner goes to the College World Series to face Texas Tech.
Two conference pitchers of the year squared off Sunday, and the duel was everything expected and more. TCU’s Preston Morrison, who was named the Big 12 pitcher of the year, held Pepperdine (43-17) to three runs on five hits with six strikeouts over 6 2/3 innings.
Morrison was replaced by Alex Young after the Waves added two runs to make it 3-0 in the seventh.
“Great ballgame,” TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle said. “Aaron Brown was obviously outstanding all over the field. Well-played game by both teams for the most part. We had our opportunities there and couldn’t push them through.”
That was mainly because of a heroic effort by Brown, the West Coast Conference pitcher of the year. He matched Morrison (9-4) pitch for pitch. Working out of multiple jams, Brown improved to 13-1 by holding the Frogs scoreless on five hits over seven innings.
Chandler Blanchard started the eighth for Pepperdine and was quickly in trouble.
He walked Boomer White to lead off the inning before Kevin Cron popped out to left. Garrett Crain’s grounder to short was thrown wildly to second, allowing White to reach third. Pepperdine right fielder Brandon Caruso fielded that error and threw wildly to home, allowing White to score and Crain to move up to third. Crain scored on Jerrick Suiter’s single to left to make it 3-2.
With two outs and Suiter at second after a steal, Keaton Jones singled to shallow center field, and Suiter was thrown out at home on a perfect throw from Brown, who had moved to center field after leaving the mound.
Pepperdine catcher Aaron Barnett had the plate blocked. Suiter tried to avoid the tag by leaping over Barnett, but Barnett tagged him on the thigh to end the inning. Schlossnagle said sending Suiter was the right move.
“How many other two-out hits did you see us get? You have to send him. You have to force the guy to play catch, and he made a great throw,” he said. “I saw him tag him. My only question was whether it was obstruction or not, and [the umpire] said it wasn’t.”
Brown said he knew Suiter was headed home as soon as the ball was hit.
“That’s a chance for them to tie it up,” Brown said. “My job is to make a throw to the catcher and see what happens, and that’s what I did and we were fortunate to get the tag. It’s a heck of a job [by Suiter to leap], but Barnett made a great play.”
Pepperdine coach Steve Rodriguez made a mound visit after TCU had pulled to within 3-2.
“I told everyone, ‘We’re fine,’ ” he said. “I’ve had confidence in them all year. You could tell [shortstop Manny Jefferson] was crushed by that [error] because Manny takes all of those very seriously.”
Pepperdine took a 1-0 lead in the fifth. Hutton Moyer led off with a single to right and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt from Jack Ross. Morrison forced a groundout to third for the second out, but Caruso’s single down the left-field line scored Moyer.
TCU (46-16) let several scoring chances slip by in the early innings. In the second, Cron led off with a single, but a 6-4-3 double play quickly erased him.
In the third, Fitzgerald led off with a double to left field and moved to third when Keaton Jones’ sacrifice bunt was thrown wildly to first to give the Frogs runners on the corners with no outs. Brown, however, struck out Kyle Bacak for the first out. He walked Cody Jones to load the bases but was able to come back and strike out Derek Odell and Boomer White swinging to escape the jam.
Cron again reached to start the fourth on an error at short and moved to second on Crain’s sac bunt, but Brown was able to retire Jerrick Suiter and strike out Fitzgerald to end the inning.
Keaton Jones led off the fifth with a single, and the Frogs had two on after Odell walked with two outs. But Boomer White flew out to right to end the inning. TCU had runners on in the sixth and seventh but couldn’t move them off first base.
Keaton Jones said the Frogs will have no problem putting Sunday’s loss behind them.
“The last half of the season, we’ve put losses behind us pretty easily,” he said. “It’s big for us and big for the program. We want to get to Omaha. I’ve never been there but hear from [Schlossnagle] that it’s nice. We’re looking forward to getting out there and competing tomorrow.”