Try to think of the Pepperdine Waves, TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle had told his team, as sort of a mirror image of the Horned Frogs.
Stout pitching. Steady defense. Opportunistic offense.
Pepperdine, it seems, is TCU with an ocean view.
As Waves coach Steve Rodriguez put it after Saturday’s first game of the Super Regional, “Two very similar teams ... . They were able to capitalize on a couple of hits, and we weren’t.”
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The 3-2 final score suggests that Rodriguez’s bare-bones comparison is largely correct. But as Brandon Finnegan and Riley Ferrell reminded Saturday, if a team really thinks it’s a clone of the national seed Frogs, it’s going to have to out-pitch them.
And good luck with that.
Left-hander Finnegan, drafted No. 17 overall by the Kansas City Royals on Thursday, held the Malibu-based Waves to two singles through the first six innings. Ferrell, his partner on the USA national collegiate team last summer, came in later to secure the final five outs.
With the temperature hovering in the mid-90s, Finnegan’s 96th pitch of the sunny afternoon was launched over the left-field fence in the seventh inning by Pepperdine designated hitter Chris Fornaci.
Suddenly, the TCU lead was trimmed to 3-2 and, as Schlossnagle said, “It was on, baby.”
All day long, the Frogs had threatened to bust the game open against Waves starter Corey Miller, the West Coast Conference’s No. 1 pitcher this season. Miller was pulled in the sixth inning after allowing 10 hits and walking four, but TCU was able to strike for only three runs.
Hence, the late-inning drama.
When you’ve got a pitching staff like Schlossnagle’s, however, the drama lately tends to have a happy ending.
The victory was the Frogs’ 31st in their last 34 games. The 2 2/3 innings worked by relievers Trey Teakell and Ferrell ran the TCU bullpen’s scoreless streak to 26.
“You’ve just got to take your hat off to Finnegan,” Pepperdine’s Rodriguez said. “My gosh, he did a heck of a job. He pitched down in the zone all day. He just did a really good job.
“That’s why he’s a first-round draft pick.”
Schlossnagle felt that Finnegan “may not tell you, but hit a wall” in the seventh. Teakell finished that inning, but surrendered back-to-back singles to lead off the Pepperdine eighth.
That’s when Rodriguez did a very 2014-ish college baseball thing. With runners on first and second, he had cleanup hitter Aaron Brown, who led the WCC with 12 home runs and had twice hit the ball hard Saturday, lay down a sacrifice bunt.
Schlossnagle summoned Ferrell, who quickly silenced the threat.
Rodriguez seemed surprised later, when a reporter asked about having Brown bunt.
His motivation, the coach said, was to “get the winning run to second base.
“To be honest, it was really not even a close decision for me.”
Ferrell, however, may be TCU’s biggest drama-killer of all. Only a sophomore, the right-hander from College Station regularly jacked the radar gun into the high 90s Saturday, while striking out four of the five Waves he faced.
He ended the game by whisking a 96 mph fastball past Manny Jefferson.
It was the best breeze that the partisan TCU crowd felt all day.
The save was Ferrell’s 15th of the season and came in his 28th appearance. In those 28 games, he has allowed a hit only three times. Going back to the 2013 season, Ferrell has allowed a hit in only three of his last 39 appearances.
He wasn’t trying to strike out the side in the ninth, Ferrell modestly said.
“I was just thinking about making good pitches and let our defense make the plays,” he said. “If they swing and miss, that’s fine, too.”
Ferrell’s final pitch Saturday leaves the Frogs one victory from Omaha and the school’s second College World Series.
One more victory, in other words, for the TCU pitchers to write another happy ending.