Sometime late Saturday night, or maybe early Sunday morning, in the aftermath of a stunning loss that sent his team into the loser’s bracket, TCU baseball coach Jim Schlossnagle started to think big picture.
What was the best way to win not only one game, but three? What would give his team the best chance to win the Fort Worth Regional?
Needing two wins Sunday, and another Monday if it got that far, he decided — start a relief pitcher for the first game and one of his two remaining starters in the second.
Brian Howard and Tyler Alexander made their coach look like a genius.
Howard pitched 4 1/3 effective innings to start an 8-3 victory against Stony Brook, and Alexander retired the first 18 batters in an 8-2 victory against N.C. State to end an ideal day for the Horned Frogs (46-12).
“It’s big in every possible way. Every possible way,” Schlossnagle said of Alexander’s complete game three-hitter.
The two victories put TCU in a winner-take-all game at 7 p.m. Monday against N.C. State, which put the Frogs in the loser’s bracket in the first place with a dramatic two-run home run in the ninth inning Saturday night.
But by using Howard against Stony Brook, Schlossnagle now has Alex Young to start for the championship game. The Frogs are 10-3 in his starts this year and 12-5 all-time. Young, a junior left-hander, has never started an NCAA postseason game, but has an 0.00 ERA in three appearances covering 2 1/3 innings.
He gave up three runs in five innings in his last start, May 20 at the Big 12 tournament against Baylor.
Alexander (6-2) gave TCU its third outstanding performance from a true starter in the regional.
Mitchell Traver allowed four hits and no runs in seven innings Friday. Preston Morrison allowed four hits and struck out 10 in eight innings Saturday. Alexander allowed three hits and two runs in his complete game.
Alexander didn’t get his first strikeout until the fourth inning, but he didn’t need it. He used only 28 pitches through the first three innings, riffing through the big-bomber N.C. State lineup the first time through.
By the fifth inning, he had used only 53 pitches, 40 for strikes, and had 10 fly ball outs.
In the sixth inning, he threw four pitches to get three outs. A fly ball on the first pitch, a foul out on the second and a ground ball to second on the first.
His perfect game ended on the leadoff batter in the seventh inning. On a 1-1 pitch, Logan Ratledge rolled a hard ground ball to shortstop that Keaton Jones fielded cleanly. But with his momentum taking him laterally, Jones threw low to first base. Jeremie Fagnan couldn’t scoop it, and the string of 18 consecutive outs ended.
Alexander was aware of his perfect start, but he wasn’t expecting to finish the game like that, anyway.
“I’m not the type of pitcher to blow you away,” he said. “I pitch to contact, and I throw a lot of strikes, and they’re going to put ballsi in play. I’m just going to execute pitches and throw low in the zone. If they get hits, they get hits. If they don’t, they don’t.”
On the next pitch, the no-hitter was gone, too. Andrew Knizner singled through the hole on the right side. Two pitches later, the shutout was gone when Preston Palmeiro hit a sacrifice fly to right field.
Alexander got a ton of run support, and it started early.
The first three hitters of the second inning singled sharply. Fagnan’s run-scoring single was the third in that sequence, scoring Garrett Crain for a 3-0 lead. With two outs, Dane Steinhagen rifled a triple down the line in right to score two runs.
That made it 5-0 and chased starter Ryan Williamson.
Derek Odell’s single over the glove of second baseman Ryne Willard gave TCU a 2-0 lead in the second inning.
The two-out hit scored Evan Skoug, who singled with no outs, and Nolan Brown, who singled with one out. An outfield error put the runners at second and third, and Odell delivered after a Keaton Jones strikeout.
Howard got run support in the first game, too. Evan Skoug had three hits and hit a three-run homer, Connor Wanhanen had three hits and drove in two runs, and Nolan Brown had three hits and an RBI.
The fast starts in both games, with TCU in the visitor’s dugout, took the pressure off on a day that required a 2-0 showing.
“That’s one thing that Coach Schloss said, that he was glad we were the visiting team so that we could come out with our bats first,” Odell said. “We thought that that was one of the most important things to do, to throw the first punch and keep throwing punches throughout the game.”
Carlos Mendez, 817-390-7760
Fort Worth Regional
Game 1: N.C. State 3, Stony Brook 0
Game 2: TCU 10, Sacred Heart 0
Game 3: Stony Brook 11, Sacred Heart 6 (Sacred Heart eliminated)
Game 4: N.C. State 5, TCU 4
Game 5: TCU 8, Stony Brook 3 (Stony Brook eliminated)
Game 6: TCU 8, N.C. State 2
Game 7: TCU vs. N.C. State, 7:05 p.m.