Gil LeBreton

After stunner, Frogs have to turn the page

North Carolina State’s Chance Shepard, left, celebrates with Ryan Williamson and the rest of the team after hitting at two-run home run to take a 5-4 lead over TCU in the ninth inning of Saturday’s May 30, 2015 Regional baseball game at Lupton Stadium in Fort Worth.
North Carolina State’s Chance Shepard, left, celebrates with Ryan Williamson and the rest of the team after hitting at two-run home run to take a 5-4 lead over TCU in the ninth inning of Saturday’s May 30, 2015 Regional baseball game at Lupton Stadium in Fort Worth. Special to the Star-Telegram

In the quiet and shock of the TCU baseball clubhouse, coach Jim Schlossnagle had tried to turn the page.

But in truth, he was just as stunned as his team was.

Leading 4-3 over North Carolina State in the top of the ninth inning, Schlossnagle had turned the game over to the best closer in school history, All-American Riley Ferrell.

In 29 appearances, Ferrell had allowed only seven hits – and only one extra-base hit – the entire season.

He struck out the first two Wolfpack hitters but walked Ryne Willard, bringing designated hitter Chance Shepard to the plate for NC State’s last chance.

"I knew Ferrell was a power guy – he’s going to come at you," Shepard said. "I was looking for that fastball."

Shepard shocked Lupton Stadium by sending Ferrell’s 1-1 fastball over the centerfield wall.

North Carolina State’s Travis Orwig was able to retire the Horned Frogs in the bottom of the ninth to hold on to the 5-4 victory.

Shepard called it "obviously, the best moment of my life."

The nightcap of the second day of the NCAA regional round is always a pivotal one.

Win that game, and a team is only one victory away from advancing to the Super Regional.

Win that game, and your opponent is going to have to win three times to accomplish the same thing.

Win that game, and your pitching staff – unless you’ve just played 22 innings, as TCU did a year ago – tends to be tanned, rested and ready for the few innings that lay ahead.

No wonder the drama factor was turned up at Lupton Stadium on Saturday night.

North Carolina State coach Elliott Avent exchanged words with TCU pitching coach Kirk Saarloos. The Wolfpack’s Willard objected to catcher Evan Skoug’s tag-and-then-some at home plate. Shepard then slid in high and hard at second base.

And that was just the fourth inning.

"Much ado about nothing," said Avent, who has a reputation for confrontation and was suspended three games in 2012 for bumping an umpire.

After the Wolfpack’s error-aided fourth-inning rally, the Frogs came back to knot the score in the sixth on Garrett Crain’s triple and a single by Cody Jones. Crain’s sacrifice fly the next inning gave TCU the lead it wanted, as Schlossnagle handed the ball to Ferrell to close things out.

After a dominating regular season – 14 saves, 42 strikeouts in 27 innings – Ferrell had experienced control problems in the Big 12 tournament.

But Saturday’s performance was nothing like that, Schlossnagle said.

"Against Baylor, he couldn’t find the plate," the coach explained. "He was a thousand times better tonight than he was in the conference tournament."

More than once during his 12 seasons at TCU, Schlossnagle has professed his time-honored belief that, "The toughest thing in sports is the final out in a college baseball game."

He didn’t dust it off for the media late Saturday night, but he easily could have.

"Riley’s gotten plenty of those final outs," Schlossnagle said. "What can you say? He was down in the strike zone. The guy just got to his fastball."

Shepard’s homer produced just one of the tremors that shook the regional brackets Saturday night. Five of the 16 No. 1 seeds, including the Frogs, will be playing elimination games Sunday.

TCU has the pitching to win three more games in the regional.

"I think so," Schlossnagle agreed. "If anybody does, we do. I have confidence in our team. They’ve been pretty good all year long.

"But we’ve just got to think one game at a time."

In a silent locker room, Schlossnagle said, "I just challenged them.

"I told them, ‘Before you take that jersey off – I don’t care how long it takes – you need to flush this thing. Don’t take that jersey off until you do.’

"The quicker we do it, the better. The sun will come out tomorrow."

And the coach, I asked Schlossnagle? Is he going to be able to quickly forget such a stunning postseason defeat?

"Oh, I’ll probably be up for awhile," he confessed. "But I will. I will."

The Frogs now have to win three games – and beat North Carolina State twice – to reach the Super Regional round.

Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697

Twitter: @gilebreton

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