FORT WORTH — Four home runs were the story of a game that went from a 2-0 Dallas Baptist University lead to a 15-3 finish for Texas Christian University Monday night at Williams-Reilly Field at Charlie and Marie Lupton Stadium.
Three came from Horned Frog bats and another came from the Patriots' Devlin Granberg in the top of the ninth inning. The distance between the lead created by Matt Duce's opening-salvo long ball and the Grandberg's solo shot, though, was seven innings.
"Aside from the first inning, this game wasn't a whole lot of fun for us," DBU Head Coach Dan Heefner. "They did a good job but we gave them a ton of free bases. That makes it a lot easier on an offense. I think at one point they had 10 runs on only four hits. A lot of that was out doing but that's what good hitters do. When you give them free bases, they take advantage of it. They definitely did that today."
The (42-21) Patriots lost the two other time they faced TCU this season, 10-inning 3-2 defeat on March 7 and a 9-3 decision on April 11. The kings of Lupton Stadium were ranked No. 1 and No. 3, respectively, by the NCAA at the time.
Heefner said the Patriots, as it was with a lot of teams that fell in their respective regionals, having abundant pitching became a point of value — maybe more than hitting.
"Our top three guys gave us pretty good starts, but after that, we were out. That's what happened to Virginia today as well," he continued. "That's why TCU won it. They've got some really good pitching."
With the help of two-hit games from Midlothian, Texas alumnus Zach Humphreys (2-for-4), Nolan Brown (2-for-3) and Connor Wanhanen (2-for-2), the Horned Frogs put 11 hits, 13 RBIs and 15 runs on the scoreboard. Humphreys scored twice during the matchup, once on a bottom third single and another during an Evan Skoug three-run bomb.
Brian Howard, TCU's 6-foot-9 right-handed starter, helped hold a DBU team that hit three home runs less than two hours before to six total hits. He struck out three batters and allowed two runs on four hits. Sean Wymer closed the final 2.1 innings of the game, allowing only two hits — one of which was Granberg's longball.
Patriot home run leader Austin Listi, who had hit two home runs in back-to-back games, went 0-for-4. TCU senior Josh Watson sent his first home run of the season over the fence during the regional final.
Howard said it was the pad the Horned Frogs needed to secure their place in next weekend's super-regional against Missouri State University.
"Josh was the least excited person on the team, that's for sure," he said about the three-run homer that gave them a 9-2 lead in the third inning, laughing and jabbing Head Coach Jim Schlossnagle.
"I think I was the most excited," Schlossnagle added. "We're definitely going to have to rethink pushing the fences back with those guys in town. We've been so respectful of their hitters and the week they've been having because we know that even a 9-2 lead isn't enough. A walk or an error, it could change the way they've been swinging the bat. They're aggressive and swing early in the count. They kind of live and die by that.
It was the second super-regional-clinching win for Howard in two years and the fourth straight Fort Worth Regional Championship for TCU.
"I think Brian, once he settled in, did a great job and found the bottom of the strike zone," Schlossnagle continued. "We took advantage of a lot of free bases in the game and the middle innings. The win got us to the super-regional and a game against a very good team. I've followed their program for a while now. Their coach has been there for a long time and has run a successful program for a long time and they've got outstanding players with a lot of power. If you can go into Arkansas and win a regional, you have a good team. That's what you're going to get this time of year. You don't float on a magic cloud to Omaha. You have to play your way there and earn it."
The Horned Frogs and their hard-hitting, Midlothian designated hitter will face Missouri State's Bears, which went 3-1 in the NCAA Fayetteville Regional and beat Arkansas 3-2 Monday night to clinch a berth in the Fort Worth Super-Regional Tournament.
The Patriots shuffled six pitchers to the mound Monday night. Former Midlothian Panther Jimmy Fouse was one of the two that lasted the longest, despite entering the game in the bottom of the second inning with the bases loaded. He helped keep the TCU rally at bay after allowing only three runs during an inning that could have been far more damaging.
Though it loses Listi and infielder Camden Duzenack, left-handed bullpen arm Landon Wilson and two other seniors, DBU will expect 29 of its 34 regional round players to return next year. Fouse and Red Oak's MD Johnson will enter their junior seasons and Ovilla Christian's Jacob Webb will enter his sophomore season.
Staff ace Jordan Martinson and clutch-hitting outfielder Jameson Hannah will also be juniors next season.
"I'm really proud of our guys and what they did the second half of the season," Heefner said. "At the midway point in the year, things were not going good and they can learn from that [adversity]. They can take a lot of satisfaction in what they did the second half of the year and get to another regional and get to a championship game."
Marcus S. Marion, @MarcusMarionWNI