Add a ninth-inning, suicide squeeze bunt to TCU’s fascinating story

06/09/2014 10:36 PM

06/10/2014 7:56 AM

It’s a part of their story now.

You can add Kyle Bacak’s bunt Monday to the double play in April that completed the sweep in Austin. The 22-inning game. The three-run rally against West Virginia.

The Brandon Finnegan strikeouts. The Riley Ferrell saves. The grounders in the hole that Keaton Jones and Garrett Crain flagged down again and again.

They are all a part of TCU’s 2014 baseball story now, the final chapter of which, after Monday’s 6-5 win over Pepperdine, will be written at the College World Series in Omaha.

A story that, frankly, seemed to be headed nowhere near the end of March, when the Horned Frogs were 2-4 in the Big 12 and had a disappointing 15-12 record.

First baseman Kevin Cron remembers the time well.

“To be honest, it’s almost like we cleared the slate,” the TCU junior said Monday. “That was really when, it seemed, we started bearing down, started paying attention to the little things.

“We got hot.”

The flaming Frogs have won 32 of 36 games since that first day in April. And after being down to what could have been their final three outs Monday, the story will go on.

It’s a comeback story, really. A tale of persistence — Cron’s is a good example — and of learning from your mistakes. When you go 29-28 in your first year in the Big 12 and start your second season by losing the first two conference series, you’ve made more than a few mistakes.

That was when, Cron said, the things that the coaches were preaching finally sank in. The Frogs’ at-bats became more patient, more grinding. The attention to detail — like laying down a suicide squeeze bunt in the ninth inning — became more earnest.

On Monday, in probably his best game in a TCU uniform, Cron lit a fire under the Frogs with a fifth-inning home run and drove home a tying run with a sixth-inning double.

“So rewarding,” head coach Jim Schlossnagle said of Cron’s performance. “Before the game, I said to coach [Zach] Etheredge, ‘I think Cron is going to be big today.’ ”

At a robust 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds Cron, of course, is always going to be big. But his college career has been marked with ups and downs.

Coming out of high school, Cron was a third-round draft choice of the Seattle Mariners. Last week, the Arizona Diamondbacks drafted him 14th.

“He’s worked so hard,” Schlossnagle said. “The expectations for him have been so unrealistic since he came out of high school.

“But he’s a great student and a great leader.”

Cron’s two big hits Monday broke the ice for TCU and forced Waves coach Steve Rodriguez to start digging deep into his bullpen. It was a chess match that Schlossnagle was better armed to win.

The three hits that launched TCU’s ninth-inning comeback — singles by Crain and Jerrick Suiter and Dylan Fitzgerald’s double — all came with two strikes. Then up came catcher Bacak with runners on second and third.

The squeeze bunt didn’t surprise anyone, but as Rodriguez said, “He laid it down perfectly. To be honest, I was just happy we didn’t panic and were able to get the out.

“We were only down one run at the end, and all we needed was a base hit to tie the game up. And who knows? You might go 22 innings, if you’re not careful.”

But that was last weekend’s chapter. In this one, TCU’s Ferrell blew a 97-mph fastball past Pepperdine’s Bryan Langlois for the game’s final out.

Gracious in defeat, Rodriguez said more than once, “The better team won today.” But his team had its chances, he said.

“That’s all you can ask for,” the Waves skipper said. “Our superman [Aaron Brown] comes up and hits a laser off the wall, and we were able to get ahead. We bring our closer in, and I know they don’t have a lot of power and have to get some hits. But they were able to do it.”

In April, as the story goes, the Frogs cleaned the slate. They swept mighty Texas in Austin. They knocked off Oklahoma State for the Big 12 tournament title. They survived seven hours and 22 innings to win a pivotal game in the NCAA regional.

They got the hits. They made the plays. Their pitching kept them going on the nights when the hits weren’t there.

And now comes the Frogs’ final chapter — in Omaha, where their happily-ever-after dreams have been focused all season long.

A game-winning bunt? Just part of the TCU season’s story.

About Gil LeBreton

Gil LeBreton

@gilebreton

Whether it's pondering Moose McNuggets at the McDonald's in Norway or chasing Lance Armstrong up some mountaintop in France, Gil LeBreton has been entertaining Star-Telegram readers for nearly 30 years. He's covered 21 Super Bowls, 14 Olympic Games (summer and winter), saw Muhammad Ali box, Paul Newman drive a race car and Prince Albert try to steer a bobsled.

Gil also once briefly held the WBC Junior Welterweight title belt -- he had to, because the guy he was interviewing, champ Bruce Curry, had to suddenly step into the men's room.

Email Gil at gilebreton@star-telegram.com

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