The moment the ball hit Luken Baker’s bat in the ninth inning Sunday at the College World Series, it made a sound the TCU Horned Frogs recognize.
“Honestly, our dugout goes completely silent,” pitcher Brian Trieglaff said. “All we hear is that ball hitting the barrel. It sounds like a bomb going off.”
A three-run bomb.
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Baker, a 6-foot-4, 265-pound freshman designated hitter from Spring, launched a rocket over the left field fence and beyond the bullpen with one out in the ninth inning to lift the Horned Frogs past Texas Tech with a 5-3 victory in the CWS opener for both teams at TD Ameritrade Park.
You even could hear the crowd gasp a little bit whenever he hits a ball.
TCU second baseman Cam Warner, on Luken Baker
“You even could hear the crowd gasp a little bit whenever he hits a ball,” second baseman Cam Warner said. “He puts good swings on baseballs, and the ball flies.”
It has been flying a lot lately. The homer was Baker’s 10th of the season, but his sixth since the regular season ended four weeks ago. It was his second in NCAA tournament rounds. He had a three-run homer in the opener of the Super Regional series against Texas A&M last week, also.
The Horned Frogs (48-16), winning for the 15th time in 17 games, advanced to a winner’s bracket game at 8 p.m. Tuesday against Coastal Carolina. A win would move them to the semifinals on Friday night.
TCU improved to 4-0 in College World Series openers and 7-6 overall, but the Horned Frogs have never been 2-0 in a single CWS. The Horned Frogs are 44-32 all-time in NCAA postseason games.
Texas Tech (46-19), which took a 3-2 lead on Hunter Hargrove’s double inside the third-base line in the bottom of the eighth inning, fell into an elimination game against Florida or Coastal Carolina at 4 p.m. Tuesday.
“Really got to get the ball in on him,” Tech coach Tim Tadlock said of Baker, who hit the homer off closer Robert Dugger with runners at first and second. “I mean, really, when you’ve got to make a pitch, you’ve got to get in. That’s where you can get him.”
Baker suspected as much.
“I figured he missed a few times arm-side, and maybe he’ll come inside,” Baker said. “So I was sitting on that early whenever I had the count in my favor, and I got it and put a good swing on it.”
15 Strikeouts for TCU pitching in the CWS opener, the third time this season, matching a season high. Starter Jared Janczak had eight in 4.2 innings, Brian Trieglaff had five in 3.0 innings, and closer Durbin Feltman had two in the ninth.
Freshman right-hander Durbin Feltman pitched the ninth for his ninth save. Brian Trieglaff threw three innings in relief, giving up one run. Warner homered in the fifth for a 2-1 lead, and Omaha native Ryan Merrill had a sacrifice fly for TCU.
Baker credited them all, along with Austen Wade and Evan Skoug for reaching base in the ninth to give him a chance to bat.
“They were the ones that put us in the position to win that game,” Baker said. “Trieg threw an amazing three innings, four innings, something like that. Cam was the one that got our offense rolling. If those things don’t happen, we probably don’t get on a roll there in the ninth inning.
It’s neat to hear them talk about it, but if Austen Wade and Evan Skoug don’t get on right there, I don’t get an at-bat. Everyone does something for the win.”
But hardly anybody has been doing as much as Baker.
TCU has homered in 40 games and is 34-6 in those games, including 10-0 when Luken Baker homers.
In 12 games since the regular season ended, he is 26-for-49 (.531) with three doubles, six home runs and 17 RBIs. In seven NCAA tournament games, he is 12-for-27 (.444) with two doubles, two home runs and six RBIs.
“I expect a lot out of myself, as most people do,” Baker said. “Whenever that stuff happens, it’s awesome. But it happened. We have another game in two days, so we have to get locked in again.”
TCU is 10-0 when Baker homers. Five of his 10 home runs have been with TCU tied or trailing.
“When he gets some count leverage, he can look to do big damage,” TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle said. “He didn’t look to do that earlier in the year.”
That explains the feeling in the TCU dugout when Baker got his at-bat.
“We know he’s not going to give away an at-bat. Look at the size of him,” Trieglaff said.
Then they heard ball hit bat.
“It’s unreal,” Warner said.
Carlos Mendez: 817-390-7760, @calexmendez