TCU baseball fine-tuning for 2019 season
TCU starter Nick Lodolo threw a gem Friday night at a misty, foggy Lupton Stadium.
Unfortunately for the Horned Frogs, he only lasted six innings.
The TCU bullpen couldn’t hold a one-run lead to get Lodolo his seventh win, but Conner Shepherd’s walk-off home run on the first pitch in the bottom of the ninth gave the Horned Frogs a thrilling 4-3 win over Kansas.
“The pitching did awesome and kept us in the game,” said Shepherd who hit his fifth homer of the season and his first ever walk-off. “I was looking for a specific location, and he wound up giving it to me. It was a fastball in, and I was looking for a pitch that I could hammer.”
Lodolo, who was second in the Big 12 in ERA at 2.34 coming into Friday, was stellar, allowing just two hits and two earned runs over six innings. He walked three and hit two batters but had 11 strikeouts in his 108-pitch effort.
“Early on, I had a good slider working and good fastball command, and was just attacking guys,” said Lodolo. “After I was finished pitching, I was in the training room and saw that it was tied at three. I was telling our trainers that I’ve never been part of a walk-off home run, and he did it. It was awesome.”
Kansas (27-23, 8-11 Big 12), trailing 3-2, loaded the bases in the seventh off of reliever Jake Eissler on a walk, an error on a sacrifice bunt and a hit batter.
Augie Mihlbauer took over on the mound from there and struck out the first batter, but walked Jaxx Groshans to tie the game. Mihlbauer left the bases loaded with a pop out to second and another strikeout to end the inning.
Andrew Keefer opened the scoring for TCU (27-20, 9-10) when he took the first pitch he saw from Kansas starter Ryan Zeferjahn into the Frogs bullpen in left to give the Horned Frogs a 1-0 lead in the third.
Lodolo walked two in the fourth but got out of trouble by striking out the final two batters swinging to end the inning.
The Frogs added two more in their half of the fourth.
Johnny Rizer doubled to lead off the inning, and Keefer walked with one out. Shepherd dropped an RBI single into right, scoring Rizer, and an Adam Oviedo fielder’s choice chased home Keefer to give TCU a 3-0 lead.
Lodolo helped himself in the top of the fifth, snagging a sharp liner off the bat of Kansas DH Nolan Metcalfe for the first out, but then he ran into trouble.
A walk and a hit batter was followed by a triple by James Cosentino, high off the left field wall down the line, that scored Dylan Ditzenberger and Rudy Karre.
TCU kept the 3-2 lead when Keefer, in right field, jumped into the fence to take a hit away from Groshans, Kansas’ leading hitter, for the final out.
Lodolo struck out the side in the sixth.
Jake Guenther’s single to right in the third upped his streak of reaching base safely to 47 games, currently the second-longest active streak in the nation. Guenther has reached base safely in every game this season.
Austin Henry walked in the fifth, his 19th consecutive game reaching base.
After losing eight of nine games after the Baylor series, TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle was hopeful his team would overcome all the injuries and turn it around.
The Frogs have done a good job of it, winning four of five since.
“We got swept by Baylor and then played a mid-week game against Abilene, and we just said, ‘You know what, we’re responsible for what’s going to happen with this team,’” said Shepherd. “We know that we’re better than what we’ve been showing, and we’re trying to prove that.”
The Frogs and Jayhawks will play game two of the three-game series at 2 p.m. Saturday.