As the end neared to an increasingly anxious afternoon at TCU’s Lupton Stadium, Missouri State coach Keith Guttin finally blinked.
He had solid and humane reasons to, mind you. His starting pitcher, sophomore right-hander Dylan Coleman, had been brilliant all day – and then some.
But at long last, 132 pitches into Coleman’s masterpiece, Guttin went to his bullpen with a one-run lead and a runner on base in the bottom of the eighth.
He summoned one of the heroes of his team’s NCAA regional triumph last weekend at Arkansas – Jordan Knutson, a lefty.
And TCU’s left-handed-hitting catcher, Evan Skoug, wasn’t fazed by the strategy at all.
As Skoug would say later, “I feel comfortable against lefties.”
Has any team in the country faced as many lefties these past two years as TCU? Has any catcher faced as many as Skoug?
Skoug made it just another case Saturday of lefty-on-lefty crime.
He stroked a Knutson fastball into the second row of the terrace beyond the right field fence for a game-deciding, two-run home run.
The 3-2 victory means that the Frogs will play the Bears again Sunday for the right to return to the College World Series in Omaha for the fourth consecutive year.
Coleman, however, nearly backed the Frogs into a Super Regional corner. He struck out 10 in 7 1/3 innings and allowed only an infield single after the second inning.
The performance earned high praise from TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle.
“Dylan Coleman was phenomenal,” Schlossnagle said. “He pitched as outstanding a game on this field as any visiting team pitcher I can remember.”
TCU’s own sophomore starter, Jared Janczak, nearly matched Coleman. But a bunt single by Missouri State’s Hunter Steinmetz in the fifth gave the Bears a 2-1 lead, which loomed larger with each Coleman inning.
Guttin, who’s in his 35th year at the Springfield, Mo., school, dispensed his postgame words sparingly.
“Dylan was tired, so it was time to take him out,” he said, eschewing elaboration.
As for the choice of Knutson to face Skoug, Guttin answered, “Left on left.”
They always do that, though, you know. With six regular left-handed hitters (and switch-hitter Josh Watson) in the lineup, TCU sees a steady diet of opposing team lefties.
But Skoug, for one, says it doesn’t matter.
“My dad was a lefty,” said the junior from Libertyville, Ill. “My brother was a lefty. Growing up, it seemed I was always hitting off left-handed pitchers.
“My dad put up a batting cage in our backyard, and it was always left-handed. And I had an outstanding hitting instructor in high school, who was a lefty.
“I put in a lot of work against lefties because I knew teams were going to try to bring in their left-handed specialists against me in big situations.”
Skoug’s homer was his 19th of the season. He has driven in 64 runs, and he’s all but certain to hear his name called quickly Monday during the MLB Draft.
The lefty-on-lefty strategy against TCU likely won’t go away, not with Skoug, Austen Wade, Nolan Brown, Connor Wanhanen and Ryan Merrill all batting from the left side.
But the Frogs have no fear of that chess game. One more victory in this best-of-three series, and they’re headed to Omaha.
Which is something else that Skoug and TCU have become accustomed to.
Gil LeBreton: @gilebreton