This is probably what TCU had in mind for its regional tournament opener Friday night.
Get ahead early, use one or two pitchers max, stay out of a stressful game.
In other words, don’t repeat last year.
Mitchell Traver pitched seven strong innings, Brian Trieglaff finished the game in relief, seven hitters drove in a run and the Horned Frogs – idle since a surprising early exit at the conference tournament – played error-free defense in opening the Fort Worth Regional with a 10-0 victory against No. 4 seed Sacred Heart.
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“It was nice not to just be banging your head against the wall with pitching decisions and everything else,” coach Jim Schlossnagle said.
Last year, the Horned Frogs played eight postseason games decided by two runs or one run, including three in extra innings in their College World Series run.
Friday, no such suspense.
Center fielder Cody Jones homered to lead off the game, and the offense scored in five of the eight innings to take the pressure off Traver, pitching for the first time in 17 days.
“I felt awesome,” said Traver, who threw 96 pitches, struck out seven, walked three and allowed four hits in winning his first postseason game. “It was the biggest start of my career. It went as well as I hoped it would.”
The Horned Frogs (43-11) will play N.C. State in a winner’s bracket game at 7 p.m. Saturday. The loser will have to win twice on Sunday to force a championship game on Monday. The winner need only win on Sunday night for the title.
Senior right-hander Preston Morrison (11-2, 2.63) will start for the Horned Frogs against freshman left-hander Brian Brown (7-3, 1.72) for the Wolfpack.
Jones’ home run, just inside the right field foul pole on a 1-2 pitch, was his fifth of the season and his first in 10 career postseason games. It gave him a 27-game steak of reaching base safely.
To Sacred Heart starter James Cooksey, it was a case of a hitter doing his job with a good pitch.
“It was a great pitch – he just turned on it,” Cooksey said. “He beat me. Great ballplayer.”
And great moment, at least for the Horned Frogs. It gave them an immediate lead, relaxing them after eight days off without a game following an 0-2 showing at the Big 12 tournament last week.
“It kind of gave us all a little breather of, ‘OK, we’re back to our type of baseball, our type of mentality,’ “ right fielder Nolan Brown said.
The Horned Frogs drew a season-high 10 walks against four Sacred Heart pitchers.
“I thought our at-bats through the course of the whole game, even though we didn’t have a lot of hits through the first five or six innings, were outstanding,” Schlossnagle said. “Their starting pitcher can give you fits if you chase a little bit off the plate. I thought our plate discipline was as good as it’s been all year.”
The best example was the third inning, when Jones, Jeremie Fagnan and Connor Wanhanen drew back-to-back-to-back walks with one out. Evan Skoug’s single to center, Derek Odell’s sacrifice fly to center and Nolan Brown’s single to right each scored a baserunner for a 4-0 lead.
“You could tell why they’re one of the top teams in the country,” Sacred Heart coach Nick Giaquinto said. “They did not chase many pitches out of the zone. Quality at-bat after quality at-bat.”
In the fifth, Keaton Jones and Garrett Crain each singled with two outs to drive in a run for a 6-0 lead. Connor Wanhanen’s RBI groundout in the sixth made it 7-0 and gave the Horned Frogs seven hitters with a single RBI each at that point.
Derek Odell drove in two more runs in the eighth, finishing with three runs batted in.
“Everybody knows they have a job to do,” Jones said. “We got up there. Each job got done. The guy at the plate trusts the guy behind him coming up. That’s kind of what we do here.”
It was the 16th consecutive victory at Lupton Stadium for the Horned Frogs. They are 11-2 in regional tournament games at home.
It was their eighth consecutive regional tournament win.
It was the 10th shutout this season for the Horned Frogs.
It was the 33rd time this season TCU allowed two runs or less.
Carlos Mendez, 817-390-7407