Gil LeBreton

Crain ran, because it’s what this TCU team has to do

TCU infielder Garrett Crain scores the winning run as Texas A&M catcher Michael Barash misses a throw at the plate.
TCU infielder Garrett Crain scores the winning run as Texas A&M catcher Michael Barash misses a throw at the plate. Star-Telegram

When the end came, as the clock struck 1 a.m., they ran.

They ran to the infield to hug second baseman Garrett Crain, whose crazy, impulsive dash for home plate had ended the second-longest Super Regional game in NCAA baseball history.

They then ran to the outfield, where they shouted and danced and leaped into one happy Frog pile.

This, you see, is what this TCU Horned Frog team does. It runs. It runs because it knows that’s the only way it can catch the dream.

The Frogs, 5-4 winners over Texas A&M in 16 innings Tuesday morning, have run their way back to Omaha, where some unfinished business awaits.

For the third time in six seasons, TCU is headed to the College World Series.

"I saw him bobble it, and I just turned and went," said Crain, who was about 80 foolhardy feet from the plate when Aggie third baseman Ronnie Gideon finally grasped Evan Skoug’s grounder.

"I never looked for [third base coach Bill Mosiello]. I just kept going. I was thinking, ‘I’ve got to score this run.’"

The decision was reckless. But it was so 2015 TCU.

Get moving, or get losing. The Frogs have stolen 117 bases this season. Opponents have made 104 errors, nearly twice more than TCU has.

When you don’t hit a lot of home runs, when the ball park you play in considers homers UFOs, you have to run. So you get picked off in the second inning by left-hander Tyler Stubblefield. And you get doubled off second base on a line drive in the ninth.

And you summon an old standby, the sacrifice bunt, because you know that sooner or later with all those runners in scoring position – eight of them from the ninth inning on – one of them was going to be able to sprint for home.

"I had some terrible luck there on that at-bat," said Skoug, the freshman who caught all 16 innings and whose line drive nearly ended it in the 14th.

Skoug’s bases-loaded liner rocketed into A&M pitcher Ryan Hendrix’s ribs, but first baseman Hunter Melton had the presence of mind to throw home and force the runner at the plate.

But Skoug got another chance two innings later. His high bouncing ball sent Gideon far behind the bag at third base.

"As I was running, I was looking back, and I saw the ball getting away from him," Skoug recalled.

That, as it turned out, was the only signal that Crain was interested in. He turned the bag and raced for home.

"Congratulations to TCU," A&M coach Rob Childress said. "They put pressure on us and put a ball in play, and they're going to Omaha."

A better throw would have nailed Crain at the plate, instead of skittering through catcher Michael Barash. A more prudent baserunning decision, of course, would have been to just remain at third base.

But not this TCU team. It has some unfinished business to attend to.

"Yes, we do," Crain said. "Yes, we do."

A year ago, the Frogs thought they had all the necessary ingredients to reach the College World Series finals. But when they got to TD Ameritrade Park, they saw how futile it was to score runs with the dead bats and prevailing winds. A 15-inning loss to Virginia underscored the Frogs’ frustrations.

"We’re better this year," shortstop Keaton Jones said. "We’re older, more experienced. And our offense is . . . . different.

"Tonight was frustrating, only because we wanted it so badly. We know how hard we’ve worked. We know we’re talented enough.

"Omaha," Jones said, "is always on our mind."

TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle called it "the best baseball game that I have ever been a part of" in his 25 years of coaching.

Schlossnagle’s decision to begin the ninth inning with slumping closer Riley Ferrell had helped the Aggies tie the game. But that’s a second-guess for another day, another midnight.

Seated next to Schlossnagle after the game was 6-foot-7 pitcher Mitchell Traver, who held Texas A&M hitless over the final four innings.

"Inside my hat – I know a lot of players do this – I keep something," Traver said. "It’s John 11, the story of Lazarus, which is something I have clung to this season.

"That’s where I was. I didn’t know when or how we were going to win, but I believed."

When the end came, they were exhausted. But they mustered the strength to run to center field, where the traditional tower of leaping celebration quickly formed.

A Frog pile.

It’s what teams headed to Omaha do. It’s what made TCU run.

Get moving, or get losing. There were no stop signs Monday night.

Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697

Twitter: @gilebreton

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