TCU took its final turn on the road back to Omaha and it was a doozy.
The Horned Frogs, down to their last three outs, scored two runs in the top of the ninth, including the go-ahead run on a suicide squeeze, to beat Pepperdine in a 6-5 thriller Monday afternoon at Lupton Stadium.
With TCU trailing 5-4, Garrett Crain and Jerrick Suiter led off with singles to start the inning. Dylan Fitzgerald failed to get a bunt down in hopes of moving the runners over and fell behind 0-2.
Down in the count, the bunt was no longer an option and Fitzgerald, after having worked the count to 2-2, drove a double into the right-field corner, scoring Crain to tie it at 5-5. Suiter moved to third on the double with Kyle Bacak coming to the plate.
On a 1-0 count, Suiter took off on the pitch and Bacak laid down a suicide squeeze bunt toward third. Suiter scored easily to give TCU a 6-5 lead.
“[Third base coach Bill Mosiello] told me before Bacak even got up to bat, ‘look for the squeeze on the second pitch,’ ” Suiter said. “Once that second pitch came, I had all the faith in the world that Bacak would get it down.”
Bacak, who led the team with a TCU record in sacrifices this year, said when he got the sign he was ready to give the Frogs the lead.
“Alright, let’s get it done, let’s get the run in,” Bacak said he thought. “He threw a slider and I laid it down. We’re resilient. We’ve been fighting all year. We’ll keep fighting in Omaha. I knew if we got another run for Riley, he was going to close the door.”
Indeed, TCU closer Riley Ferrell finished the game with two perfect innings to earn the win. He struck out Bryan Langlois swinging with runners on the corners to clinch the victory. He was mobbed by teammates, who quickly dogpiled near the mound in an ecstatic celebration.
TCU (47-16) returns to Omaha for the second time. The Frogs earned their 2010 CWS berth against Texas in Austin. They’ll join Big 12 brothers Texas and Texas Tech at the CWS. It’s the most teams from Texas to earn CWS berths in one season.
TCU has won 32 of its last 36 games and hasn’t lost consecutive games since March 29-30 at Oklahoma State. TCU opens against Texas Tech at 2 p.m. Sunday at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb.
Monday’s elimination game in front of 4,450 in attendance had all the drama you’d expect. But for much of the day TCU trailed, as Pepperdine (43-18) took a 3-1 early lead.
“I can’t remember playing in a game as dramatic as that in my entire life,” said TCU outfielder Boomer White. “And to get to Omaha, every inning there was something new. I probably lost a year off my life.”
Down 4-2 with two outs in the top of the 6th, TCU rallied to score twice and tie the score at 4-4.
Keaton Jones led off with a single and moved to second on Kyle Bacak’s sacrifice bunt. Derek Odell then worked a walk before Boomer White, who had been hitless in nine at-bats in the series, came through with a single to right to score Jones.
Kevin Cron, who had homered in his previous at-bat, slapped an RBI double down the left-field line to score Odell with the tying run.
TCU threatened to go ahead in the seventh with Cody Jones facing Pepperdine reliever Matt Maurer, who had just come in with runners on first and second and two outs. But Maurer forced a fly out to end the inning.
In the eighth, Pepperdine took a 5-4 lead after Langlois led-off with a single and Aaron Brown doubled off the center field wall against pitcher Jordan Kipper. TCU brought in closer Riley Ferrell to face Brad Anderson, who drove in Langlois with the go-ahead run on a sacrifice fly to right.
Kipper replaced starter Tyler Alexander after a lead-off single in the fourth and retired 11 of 12 batters he faced through the seventh inning before the Waves started the eighth with two hits. Alexander’s three inning stint was his shortest since returning to the rotation on April 19 in a five-inning start at Texas.
“The thing that’s so special about this is our fans played a role in it,” TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle said. “Kipper was phenomenal. I thought he kind of settled the storm there in the middle of the game.”
Pepperdine took a 1-0 lead in the first inning after taking advantage of a misplayed fly in right field. Fitzgerald misjudged a fly from lead-off hitter Brandon Caruso. The ball sailed over Fitzgerald’s glove after he made an initial move forward. Caruso made it all the way to third with a triple as the ball rolled to the wall. Caruso scored on on Aaron Brown’s single to right.
TCU tied it at 1-1 in the second. Fitzgerald’s two-out single was followed by singles by Keaton Jones and Kyle Bacak. Fitzgerald scored on Bacak’s single to center. With the rain coming down heavily, Cody Jones tried to catch Pepperdine’s third baseman off guard with a safety squeeze bunt. Keaton Jones took off for home but Austin Davidson made a great pickup and flipped the ball with his glove to the catcher to get Keaton Jones at home and end the inning.
Caruso, however, pushed the Waves back in front with a two-out, two-run homer to left in the bottom of the inning.
TCU’s offense again was plagued with an inability to move base runners across home plate. In the fourth, the Frogs had runners on the corners with one out when Cody Jones struck out. After Derek Odell walked to load the bases A.J. Puckett replaced Jackson McClelland on the mound to face Boomer White. White got ahead in count 3-1 before Puckett got him to foul off a pitch low in the zone and then struck him out with a fastball to end the threat and leave the bases loaded. TCU left eight men on base through the first four innings. In the three-game series, TCU left 33 runners on base in the series, including 13 on Monday.
Cron’s solo homer to left pulled the Frogs to within 3-2 in the top of the fourth, but Aaron Brown returned the favor with a solo shot to the same spot in the bottom of the inning. It was Brown’s 13th homer of the season. Cron’s homer was TCU’s 13th as a team in 2014 and the team’s first at Lupton since May 9.
“The ballpark was definitely playing different than it usually is,” Kipper said. “With the rain, the air was a little lighter and a bit of a breeze going outward. I thought it was a decent pitch. It was up a little bit but he put a good swing on it. No one said it was going to be easy. We had a lot of chances early in the game and weren’t able to cash out, but we did it when it mattered. There’s no quit in us. It’s going to be a fun ride the next couple of weeks.”