TCU freshman Kevin Cron had been fed a steady diet of off-speed pitches in his first two at-bats Sunday.
When he came to the plate with runners on first and second with one out in the seventh inning of a scoreless game against New Mexico, the first pitch he saw was another breaking ball, which he fouled off.
But on the next pitch Cron doubled to the gap in right-center field to score Jason Coats and Jantzen Witte for the biggest hit of his young career, and TCU held on for a 2-1 victory.
The Horned Frogs (29-16, 13-5 in the MWC) took two of three in the series to force a tie with the Lobos (27-21, 13-5) atop the Mountain West. Both teams have six conference games remaining. TCU is at Air Force (13-33, 5-13) Friday; the Lobos are at UNLV (22-27, 6-15).
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"They'd been getting me out with a few breaking balls and some off-speed pitches," said Cron, who was 5 for 11 with four RBIs in the series. "I knew they were going to try to do it again, especially in that situation when they really needed an out."
Lobos starter Gera Sanchez had a no-hitter through six innings and had only surrendered one base runner by hitting Cron with a pitch in the second inning. But Sanchez hit Josh Elander to lead off the seventh and then walked Jason Coats. Sanchez threw out Elander at third on Jantzen Witte's sacrifice bunt attempt, setting up Cron's double.
"Sanchez was throwing well," TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle said. "If you're hitting .250 as a team and have a 3.10 ERA you're going to play a lot of close games. At least, when you get in close ones, you don't panic, and you know how to play them.
"It's a little hard on the coach, but our players did a good job. I felt like we had a lot of opportunities to cave in that game."
TCU starter Andrew Mitchell struggled early to find his rhythm. New Mexico had runners on first and third in the first inning and two runners in scoring position in the second but Mitchell escaped without allowing a run.
Mitchell walked his third batter in the first two innings to load the bases in the second but shortstop Keaton Jones made a nice pickup and throw on a slow chopper to end the inning. Mitchell then found his groove and retired one more than the minimum the next four innings.
He struck out nine in 6 2/3 innings before Kevin Allen replaced him with two outs and a runner on third in the seventh. Allen walked his first batter before forcing a groundout to end the inning.
In the eighth, the Lobos scored a run and had runners at second and third with two outs when Justin Scharf came in and forced a groundout to preserve the 2-1 lead.
Scharf hit the leadoff batter in the ninth but Jones made a superb backhanded stop and threw to second base for the force out, and then started a game-ending double play against D.J. Peterson, who is batting .425. Peterson was 0 for 4 Sunday and 2 for 10 with two RBIs in the series.
"They don't go down easy and they put up a good fight," Mitchell said. "As a pitcher you have to fight back. They challenge you every pitch. If he's [Sanchez] going to throw up a zero, I have to throw one up, too."
Said New Mexico coach Ray Birmingham: "There were a lot of balls struck very well and which ever one found a hole that's the team that was going to win and that was Cron's. He just stuck his bat out and got it in the right spot. It's hard to win here."