Gil LeBreton

TCU baseball flushes nightmares, lives to play another day

Southlake Carroll product Tyler Alexander, right, being congratulated by catcher Evan Skoug, took a perfect game into the seventh inning and finished with a three-hitter Sunday night.
Southlake Carroll product Tyler Alexander, right, being congratulated by catcher Evan Skoug, took a perfect game into the seventh inning and finished with a three-hitter Sunday night. AP

Just as coach Jim Schlossnagle promised his TCU Horned Frogs, the sun did rise Sunday morning.

Birds chirped. Bells chimed in church towers.

The TCU-hosted NCAA regional baseball tournament went on.

The only things flushed down the drain, as it turned out, were the Frogs’ bitter memories from Saturday night.

Consigned to the loser’s bracket in the cruelest of ways — a two-run, two-out homer by North Carolina State on Saturday in the top of the ninth — TCU won twice Sunday and earned the right to play another day.

After the stunning, 11th-hour loss to the Wolfpack late Saturday night, Schlossnagle had ordered his squad not to let the dramatics of the defeat linger.

“I told them that even if it took till 3 a.m., to make sure they flushed that game before they took off their jersey,” he said.

Sunday was another day, Schlossnagle reminded them. And it could be a long one.

Time tends to move quickly, however, when your starting pitching does its job.

Schlossnagle’s two best decisions, as it turned out, were to start Brian Howard and Tyler Alexander, both sophomores, both pitching with the Frogs’ season on the line.

The former could have been seen as a gamble, of sorts. Howard mostly worked out of the bullpen during the regular season, starting only four times. But as Schlossnagle knew, Howard, who stands a towering 6-foot-9, earned his postseason chops during last year’s run to the College World Series.

He pitched four-plus innings against Stony Brook in Sunday’s first game, and relievers Preston Guillory and Travis Evans took care of the rest as the Frogs won 8-3.

In a must-win night game that followed, lefty Alexander, a product of Southlake Carroll, pitched a three-hitter and TCU leveled things with an 8-2 win over the Wolfpack.

A year ago, Schlossnagle had handed the ball to Alexander in the NCAA regional with a similar, simple game plan:

“Throw strikes,” the coach told him. “Force the other team to swing the bats. Do all the little things.”

Alexander pitched a six-hit complete game that day, as the Frogs defeated Sam Houston State 6-1 to win the regional.

The lefty’s response Sunday, though, was even more impressive. North Carolina State was unable to muster a base runner until Logan Ratledge reached on an error in the seventh.

After a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it, four-pitch sixth inning, Alexander had thrown only 57 pitches, 43 of them for strikes.

What it meant was that in a double-elimination regional, where the pitching tends to evolve into a war of attrition, Schlossnagle was able to win two games without having to exhaust his supply of starters or his bullpen.

When the Frogs and Wolfpack reconvene Monday night in a winner-take-all regional final, Schlossnagle can start left-hander Alex Young — 9-2 in 13 starts during the season — and also have his two best relievers, Trey Teakell and Riley Ferrell, fresh and available in the bullpen.

Young pitched in victories over postseason teams Rice, UCLA and Texas during the regular season.

It was a long day, just as the schedule demanded.

But for the Frogs, even after Saturday night, the sun did somehow rise Sunday. Birds chirped. Pitchers performed with uncanny efficiency.

Consider Saturday night flushed.

Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697

Twitter: @gilebreton

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