TCU stays alive as Henry, Guenther and Wolfe slug Horned Frogs into regional final

Jake Guenther, Austin Henry and Hunter Wolfe each had two-run home runs to lift TCU over Central Connecticut 9-5 Sunday afternoon in the Fayetteville Regional.

The Horned Frogs (34-27) advance for a rematch against top-seeded Arkansas in the regional championship at 8 p.m. Sunday at Baum-Walker Stadium. Senior right-hander Jared Janczak (0-3, 5.71 ERA) will face freshman left-hander Patrick Wicklander (5-2, 4.65).

The No. 4 seed Blue Devils (31-23) were eliminated with the loss.

No. 3 TCU will need to beat the No. 5 national seed Razorbacks (43-17) twice to advance to the super regional round. If the Frogs win Sunday night, the two teams will play again at 6 p.m. Monday. Arkansas beat TCU 3-1 Saturday night.

Jake Eissler took over for starter Dawson Barr after a leadoff single in the third. Eissler entered the game with a 2-1 lead. But a two-out single up the middle from Peyton Stephens gave the Blue Devils a 3-2 lead.

Guenther’s two-run home run in the first gave the Frogs a 2-1 lead. After Hunter Wolfe tripled in the third, Austin Henry’s two-run homer put the Frogs ahead 4-3.

The Blue Devils scored a run in the first after a one-out walk and two singles, including Dave Matthews RBI single up the middle.

In the second, Johnny Rizer and Josh Watson collided hard on a fly ball in the left-center field gap with two on and two out. Rizer made the catch and held on to preserve TCU’s 2-1 lead. If Rizer hadn’t held on, it would have likely been a three-run, inside the park home run for Central Connecticut’s Sam Loda. Both outfielders were shaken up on the play. Rizer had a bloody nose but they stayed in the game.

“I’m sure glad Johnny caught the ball. That’s obviously a massive play in the game,” TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle said. “We’re down to 11 position players so we can’t afford to have anymore.”

The Blue Devils tied it with a run in the fifth on consecutive doubles.

The Frogs reclaimed the lead with three runs in the sixth on Wolfe’s sacrifice fly and Henry’s two-run single to center. Henry had four RBIs. Wolfe’s two-run homer in the eighth stretched TCU’s lead to 9-5.

Eissler retired the side on six pitches in the sixth inning. It was the first 1-2-3 inning for either team in the game. He allowed three runs on nine hits over 5 2/3 innings of relief to earn the win. He struck out six.

“It certainly makes it easier. I thought I was going to start the game [last night] and they changed their mind this morning,” Eissler said of the planned long relief outing. “Just being able to mentally prepare for that and get in the zone for it. But I’ve been in that situation before so that certainly helps, too, just having that experience. Our bullpen is getting thin now and I knew what I had to do to help us get to another game.”

Dalton Brown replaced Eissler after a solo homer and double with two outs in the eighth and got a pop up to end the inning. Cal Coughlin pitched a scoreless ninth to earn the save.

“Jake did a nice job. He’s been a really good pitcher for us for several years,” Schlossnagle said. “We still have guys playing hurt, but it still has competitive at-bats through the lineup.”

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Stefan Stevenson has been covering sports for the Star-Telegram since 1997. He spent five years covering TCU athletics, which included two BCS bowls, two trips to the college World Series and the move to the Big 12. He has covered the Texas Rangers since 2014 and started reporting on the Dallas Cowboys in 2016.