No. 8-ranked TCU has been searching for the kind of starting pitching Brian Howard gave them Saturday for almost a month.
The junior went seven strong innings in a tidy 7-1 win that secured a series victory over West Virginia to open Big 12 play. He moved to 4-0 on the season on eight strikeouts and threw 106 pitches, giving up only two hits and one earned run in the top of the third inning.
But Howard didn’t allow a hit after that, and reliever Preston Guillory came on in relief to toss a perfect top of the eighth and got out of trouble in the ninth as the Horned Frogs (15-3, 2-0 Big 12) cruised at Lupton Stadium.
TCU will go for the series sweep at 1 p.m. Sunday, when Rex Hill (1-1) will try to replicate Saturday’s dominance from the hill.
He did a much better job of staying aggressive in the strike zone.
TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle on starter Brian Howard
“Going over the scouting report with the team before the game, [pitching coach] Kirk [Saarloos] walked up and said, ‘Throw low strikes,’ and walked out of the room,” TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle said. “We needed that as much as we ever have.”
The Frogs’ previous four wins had all come on hits in the seventh inning or later, and no TCU starting pitcher had gone more than five innings in the past six games, since a 16-1 victory over Gonzaga on March 6.
Howard walked two West Virginia hitters in the top of the first, but escaped by striking out the side. He only walked one the rest of the day.
“He was just trying to make perfect pitches, and you don’t have to do that,” Schlossnagle said. “He did a much better job of staying aggressive in the strike zone.”
West Virginia did help the Horned Frogs with three errors, including one in both the second and third innings that allowed TCU to stay ahead early. West Virginia starter Vance Ross air-mailed a throwback to second that moved Elliott Barzilli to third base after a leadoff single. First baseman Michael Landestoy made the Mountaineers pay with two outs in the bottom of the second on an infield hit deep up the middle to score Barzilli two pitches later and put the Frogs up 1-0.
And two-out hitting: If there was a way to coach it I sure would like to know. Two-out hits often define winning versus losing.
Jim Schlossnagle on TCU scoring all seven of its runs with two outs.
After West Virginia (10-6, 0-2) tied it in the third, catcher Evan Skoug hit a two-out double to left-center off Ross and tried to steal two pitches later. WVU catcher Ray Guerrini let the throw get away from him and into left, bringing Skoug home for the Frogs’ 2-1 lead.
The fourth was when TCU took control. Josh Watson walked before Barzilli got his second hit, and Mason Hesse moved the pair over to second and third with a sacrifice bunt. Landestoy struck out before leadoff man Austen Wade blooped a single to center to bring home Watson and Barzilli for the 4-1 lead.
The Frogs scored runs in the fifth, sixth and seventh to provide insurance. All seven of TCU’s runs came with two outs.
“We had some balls fall in, they had some errors and we put some pressure on them on the base paths,” Schlossnagle said. “And two-out hitting. If there was a way to coach it I sure would like to know. Two-out hits often define winning versus losing.”
You’d have to say he’s done more than we expected.
Jim Schlossnagle on sophomore Michael Landestoy, who is 9-for-22 this season, with most of his at-bats coming in the past 10 days.
Wade went 2 for 5 with two RBI. Landestoy was 1-for-3 with another RBI in his fourth start of the season, filling in for the injured Connor Wanhanen, who Schlossnagle said was available this weekend to pinch-hit, but not to run, after tweaking a hamstring last week.
The Frogs are aiming at a full return for Wanhanen on Thursday at Texas, said Schlossnagle, but he has been pleasantly surprised by Landestoy, who is 9 for his first 22 at the plate with eight RBI this season, with most of his work coming in the past 10 days.
“You’d have to say he’s done more than we expected,” Schlossnagle said of the sophomore. “He’s playing good defense, knows how to play within our offense and has a good presence about him.”