Fresh out of meaningful pitching, the mighty bats of Dallas Baptist finally met their match Monday night: Unflappable, tournament-tested TCU.
In four games at this TCU-hosted baseball regional, the DBU Patriots dropped jaws by slugging 13 home runs. Over the entire regular season at TCU’s Lupton Stadium — 27 games — opposing teams hit only 11.
But haymakers are nothing new in the NCAA tournament, as coach Jim Schlossnagle’s Horned Frogs well know. TCU starter Brian Howard shrugged off Matt Duce’s two-run first-inning homer, and the Frogs proceeded to launch rockets of their own against a tired DBU pitching staff.
It was supposed to be one of the tournament’s toughest regionals, but the Frogs ended up sweeping the field, despite rain delays, postponements and contests that lingered long into the night. TCU defeated Dallas Baptist 15-3 in Monday’s deciding game.
Missouri State, an upset winner over Arkansas in the Fayetteville Regional, will face TCU in the coming weekend’s Super Regional round.
For the Frogs, it will be their seventh trip to a Super Regional and third time to host. At stake will be TCU’s fourth consecutive trip to the College World Series.
All that matters, as Schlossnagle’s team proved again and again in this regional tournament.
The Virginia Cavaliers were roundly anointed as the best No. 2 seed in the entire tournament., and they are only two years removed from winning the NCAA championship.
But the Frogs silenced Virginia on Sunday night 5-1 — rendering the Cavaliers’ two stars, Adam Haseley and Pavin Smith, hitless — in a performance that was Omaha-worthy.
It showed tourney-watchers that the Frogs have their A-game back. They have licked their wounds, maybe even the massive one left by the injury and season-ending surgery to Luken Baker.
TCU’s starting pitching — Mitchell Traver on Saturday, followed by Jared Janczak and Howard — was the class of the tournament. Schlossnagle didn’t even get to start All-Big 12 freshman Nick Lodolo, the first pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates in last year’s draft.
While Schlossnagle and pitching coach Kirk Saarloos lathered in luxury, Dallas Baptist coach Dan Heefner saw the losers bracket take a telling toll on his pitching.
After using three pitchers to get through the Monday elimination game against Virginia — an 11-8 DBU win — Heefner had to call upon Gavin Fritz to make his first start of the season. Fritz struggled to find the plate, as did DBU reliever Jimmy Fouse, and the rout was on.
Lopsided scores are the bane of the NCAA baseball tournament, where the double elimination format can drain the pitching of any team that loses early.
Note to NCAA: Instead of 16 four-team, multi-game regionals, why not 32 best-of-three series? What harm would the extra weekend do?
As Traver and Janczak received on the two previous nights, Howard was saluted with a standing ovation when he left the game in the seventh inning. Aided by double plays in three consecutive innings, Howard settled down after Duce’s homer and allowed only two singles the rest of the way.
In the end, the Patriots were fun to watch. But for the host Frogs, it was a working weekend, not a Home Run Derby.
They weathered the rains. They withstood the opposing bats. They took care of business.
Gil LeBreton: @gilebreton