Brian Howard took the mound Saturday thinking it could be the last time he pitched at Lupton Stadium.
Well, it won’t be if he pitches like that.
The senior right-hander from St. Louis threw eight scoreless innings in a dominating 8-2 victory against Texas to clinch the Big 12 series, winning a fifth straight decision at home.
He saved a bullpen that used five pitchers the night before, an 11-10 TCU victory in 11 innings.
“Today, on what could be my last start here in my career, it was pretty special,” he said. “Really fun day. The crowd was behind me from the get-go, got some early run support from the team, and it was kind of, ‘Let’s go.’ ”
Howard gave up one hit and struck out four, worked around four walks, and retired 14 of the last 16 he faced, using 114 pitches.
College baseball’s the greatest part of my life. I’m ready to finish this thing strong.
TCU pitcher Brian Howard, after defeating Texas on Saturday
Spotted an 8-0 lead on Evan Skoug’s home run in the second inning and a seven-run third inning highlighted by Ryan Merrill’s two-run double, Howard (7-3) cruised in improving to 13-1 in his last 18 starts at Lupton.
His outing kept the seventh-ranked Horned Frogs (34-11, 14-6) in first place in the Big 12, despite second-place Texas Tech sweeping a doubleheader at West Virginia 1-0 and 4-3 on Saturday to improve to 39-12 and 13-7 in conference. Texas dropped to 31-18, 9-10.
“That’s just what every pitcher dreams of, being able to go out there and throw strikes and not worry about somebody hits a home run,” Howard said. “That eight-run cushion, that’s a huge part of what happened today — that offense being able to get ahead and give us a big lead so we could go ahead and attack.”
Merrill, Austen Wade and Cam Warner had two hits. Connor Wanhanen had a two-run single in the big third inning. Skoug’s home run was his third of the series and eighth in the past 15 games, putting him at 12 for the season.
599 Wins at TCU for coach Jim Schlossnagle, most among Big 12 coaches at their current school.
“What a great competitor,” TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle said of Skoug, a junior who started his 150th game at catcher for the Frogs and 175th overall. “I’m sure there’s some other guys as competitive out there. But he’s a gamer, man. Just his presence, even when he doesn’t get a hit, in the batter’s box has such an effect on the other team and our team. The home run in the second inning, to be able to get a lead on a good pitcher like Nolan Kingham, was a big deal.”
After Sunday’s series finale, the Frogs play six of their last seven games on the road before the Big 12 tournament. A strong finish puts them in line to host a regional at Lupton Stadium and perhaps earn a national seed, which would mean a home Super Regional upon advancement.
Evan Skoug’s 12 home runs are the most for a TCU player since Jason Coats hit 13 in 2010. Skoug has eight home runs in the past 15 games.
Maybe no one’s pitched their last game at Lupton.
“College baseball’s the greatest part of my life,” said Howard, who turned down professional baseball as a 17th-round pick of the Houston Astros last summer to return for his senior season. “I’m ready to finish this thing strong. The main thing today was pitch economy and having fun. I haven’t been having a whole lot of fun, so I wanted to go out there and smile and laugh and win some pitches. To be able to come out and give these fans some love and be able to win a game with my team here, it was really fun and meant a lot.”
Kingham, Henley (3), Robinson (6) and McCann, Cantu (6). Howard, Brown (9), Coughlin (9) and Skoug. W—Howard (7-3). L—Kingham (7-4). 2B—UT: Jones (16); TCU: Baker (7), Merrill (6). HR—TCU: Skoug (12). HBP—TCU: Wanhanen. SB—TCU: Merrill (12). LOB—UT 8; TCU: 5. E—UT: Todd (3), Hamilton (8); TCU: Barzilli (5). T—2:48. A—5,324. RECORDS—Texas 31-18, 9-10 Big 12; TCU 34-11, 14-6.
TCU vs. Texas
1 p.m. Sunday, ESPNU