Baylor's Shea Langelier singled with the bases loaded in the 11th inning to drive in the winning run to cap a dramatic 6-5 win over TCU in the Big 12 tournament championship Sunday afternoon.
Twice TCU was one out away from securing the championship and twice Baylor miraculously found a way to rally at Bricktown Ballpark.
"That's as tough a loss as I’ve ever had," TCU's 15th-year coach Jim Schlossnagle said. "We just had a couple of freak things happen. We work on (fly balls in the sun) but it's a stupid sport. You never see a basketball player losing it in the lights. It's just weird."
Langelier's game-winning single to center field was set up by a game-tying, bases-loaded walk by Andy Thomas against TCU reliever Austin Boyles.
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Conner Shepherd singled in Zach Humphreys with the go-ahead run in the top of the inning. Humphreys led off with a walk and moved to second on Connor Wanhanen's groundout before scoring the go-ahead run on Shepherd's two-out single.
TCU had the game all but won in the ninth inning and outfielder A.J. Balta was set to be the hero.
After hitting two home runs, including a two-run, go-ahead homer in the eighth inning, Balta lost the game-clinching out — a routine fly ball — in the sun, which allowed the tying run to score. Balta never saw the ball, which landed several feet in front of him.
"As soon as it got into the sun I started calling for help, I knew it was going to be trouble but I should still be able to catch that ball," Balta said. "You find a way. I don't think that's ever going to leave my mind. I’ll probably think about that every day for the rest of my life. That’s just how the game goes and you have to bounce back."
Balta did indeed bounce back and came up huge defensively in the 11th. He threw out the potential game-tying run at the plate on a single to right. The play was reviewed by the umpires and the call was upheld.
Balta, in his first and only season with the Horned Frogs, forever stamped his legacy on the program with a jaw-dropping performance at the Big 12 tournament.
His two-run, go-ahead home run in the eighth inning on Sunday was his second of the game and gave TCU a 4-3 lead.
He had 13 RBIs in the tournament, including three in Sunday's championship. He was one RBI shy of the tournament record. Balta, who transferred to TCU from Oregon as a graduate student for his final season of eligibility, almost single-highhandedly put the Horned Frogs in the NCAA tournament.
TCU entered the Big 12 tournament needing a title to ensure a postseason berth after finishing fifth in the conference with a ratings percentage index (RPI) ranking hovering in the mid-60s. The RPI has dropped more than 10 points and was at No. 54 Sunday evening.
"No disrespect to whoever is going to win it but if A.J. Balta is not the Most Valuable Player of this tournament that’s a freaking travesty," Schlossnagle said. "That's a freaking joke, to be honest with you."
Balta, however, was passed over for MVP honors by co-MVPs from Baylor, starting pitcher Cody Bradford and Langeliers.
After TCU took a one-run lead, Baylor quickly had two on with no outs in the bottom of the eighth against Cal Coughlin. Coughlin put Davis Wendzel on with a hit by pitch, which TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle argued could have been avoided. Coughlin struck out Langeliers for the first out before Schlossnagle turned to usual Friday night starter Nick Lodolo, who struck out pinch-hitter Tucker Johnson looking.
Schlossnagle then called on Sean Wymer to retire Cole Haring. Center fielder Johnny Rizer raced down Haring's deep fly near the track after turning around 180 degrees to end the inning.
TCU used 10 pitchers in the game and Schlossnagle's plan was working perfectly. He brought in All-American closer Durbin Feltman for the ninth inning. Feltman recorded two quick outs before the tying run reached when a shallow pop fell in front of a diving Rizer in center.
It was a play that second baseman Coby Boulware perhaps had a better chance at making after a shift in the wind knocked the ball down. That put the tying run at second base to set up Richard Cunningham's fly ball that Balta lost in the sun.
The Bears (36-19) scored three in the first against starter Haylen Green. The first two batters reached after a throwing error on shortstop Adam Oviedo and a walk before Wendzel ripped a three-run home run down the left-field line.
Green was replaced by Jake Eisler with two runners on and one out in the third inning.
The Horned Frogs (33-23) cut the deficit with solo homers from Wanhanen in the second and Balta in the third.
Both bullpens were outstanding. Three Baylor relievers held TCU to one run over five innings. Eissler held the Bears to one hit over 4 1/3 innings. Augie Milhbauer took over for Eissler with two outs and a runner on second in the seventh. Milhbauer forced a pop-out to short to end the inning and hold the one-run deficit.
TCU had a chance to tie it in the sixth when Rizer tripled with one out. But Joe Heineman forced Humphreys to fly out and struck out Wanhanen.