The only thing that stood between TCU and the 2017 Fort Worth Regional championship was a little rain.
And that was never going to last.
Josh Watson hit his first home run of the season, Evan Skoug hit his 18th, and Brian Howard pitched 6 2/3 strong innings as the Horned Frogs polished off an undefeated run through their home regional for a second consecutive year with a 15-3 victory Monday night against Dallas Baptist at Lupton Stadium.
The Frogs (45-16) advanced to their seventh Super Regional and fourth straight. They will host Fayetteville Regional champion Missouri State in a best-of-three series starting Friday or Saturday at Lupton Stadium.
“Great night for our fans,” coach Jim Schlossnagle said. “A whole lot of people in the TCU family had to put forth a lot of great effort and a lot of hours at the field to give us this opportunity to win a regional. So we’re very grateful for that.”
TCU’s three games in the regional were delayed 28 hours and 5 minutes because of rain Friday, Saturday and Sunday and lightning on Monday. The tournament began a day late when Friday’s schedule was washed out. The Frogs twice started games in the 9 o’clock hour and ended after midnight, outscoring Central Connecticut State, Virginia and Dallas Baptist 29-10.
Howard (10-3) started and won the regional title-clinching game for a second consecutive year, absorbing a two-run home run by Matt Duce in the first inning. The senior right-hander from St. Louis allowed four hits, struck out three and walked three in becoming TCU’s first back-to-back 10-game winner in 51 years.
“It’s really a testament to my teammates, putting me in this position two years in a row to go out there and clinch a regional,” Howard said. “Just the way that the fans were tonight, just to be able to get this game in — any of these games — was just incredible. We’re very happy that we got it done.”
In the postgame celebration, Schlossnagle called the stadium grounds crew and maintenance personnel to home plate for an acknowledgement from the crowd during the school song.
Skoug’s three-run home run in the sixth inning matched Chad Huffman for the most by a TCU player since 2006. The junior catcher from Libertyville, Ill. — expected to enter professional baseball in the Major League draft this summer — has 12 home runs in the past 27 games. He led TCU with seven RBIs in the regional.
“He’s our go guy,” Watson said. “We follow him. We’re feeding off him.”
Watson hit a two-run home run in the third inning for a 9-2 lead, rallying from an 0-2 count. It was the first home run of the season for the left fielder from Arlington Martin, who hit 11 last season as a freshman.
“Right now, my mentality at the plate is battling, trying to win pitches, put bat on ball,” Watson said. “Sometimes you get lucky and square one up.”
Connor Wanhanen’s two-run single in the second inning tied the game, starting a two-run stretch where the Frogs scored nine runs.
Duce’s first-inning home run was Dallas Baptist’s 12th of the regional and provided a 2-0 lead. School career homer leader Austin Listi homered three times in the regional, including twice earlier Monday in a victory that eliminated Virginia. He was 0-for-4 in Monday’s nightcap.
“Once he settled in, Brian did a great job,” Schlossnagle said. “Found the bottom of the strike zone. We took advantage of a lot of free bases in the middle innings. … No disrespect to Brian, but the way they were swinging it this week – a walk, an error and in one swing of the bat – it could change. Once we extended the lead, I felt pretty good. Brian, I’ve been saying this all year. His last 50 pitches are better than his first 50. He gets better as the game goes on, once he calms down a little bit.”
Nolan Brown was 2-for-3 with three RBIs and led TCU in hitting during the regional, going 4-for-9 with a double and five runs batted in.
TCU won three games against Dallas Baptist this season, including two in the regular season.
The 12-run victory tied for the third largest by TCU in postseason play, matching the margin in a 13-1 regional decision against Oregon State in 2009.
It was TCU’s ninth consecutive win in a home regional. The Frogs swept the 2016 event at Lupton Stadium and won the last three games in 2015, a run out of the loser’s bracket capped by a wild comeback against N.C. State.
TCU is 20-3 all-time in regional games at Lupton.
All time in postseason, TCU is 48-34, 47-30 in 14 years under Schlossnagle.