Horned Frogs hand WVU first loss of tournament, win Big 12 Crown
The two teams shake hands following TCU’s win in the Big 12 Baseball Championship Sunday afternoon. Photo by Ryan Decker
Not even Texas Christian University (42-15) relief pitcher Durbin Feltman expected teammate and fellow freshman Luken Baker to have the tournament he’s had.
The 6’4”, 265 lb. power hitter had blasted three balls over the walls of Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark during the four games his team had played entering the Big 12 Championship game against red-hot West Virginia (36-22) Sunday.
He added possibly his biggest long ball when it mattered most – in extras, in the championship game, after his team had given up the lead.
Baker’s monstrous home run to the video board well-past the fence in the left field was the difference maker as the No. 3-seeded Horned Frogs handed fourth-seeded West Virginia its first loss of the tournament, 11-10 the final in an exciting extra-inning affair.
“For most of that game it seemed like once they started scoring runs we didn’t really have an answer,” Baker said. “Then Durbin came in, and with the inning he had after he came in I looked at him and said, ‘You’re going to get this win.’
“I was just trying to get on base, hopefully and extra base hit. I got a good pitch and put a good swing on it.”
TCU jumped out to a lead quickly with an offensive explosion in the first inning, scoring five runs on five hits, including a pair of doubles, to knock Mountaineer starter Michael Grove out of the game.
Coming off his 8 2/3 inning performance Wednesday for the Mountaineers, Ross Vance was the first to come out of the pen. And although he didn’t go quite as far Sunday as he did earlier in the week, his performance was just as impressive.
“It’s unbelievable what we’ve asked that kid to do,” West Virginia head coach Randy Mazey said. “Not many pitchers can do what he did this week. Just step in there in short notice. For him to come in and do that, after what he did against (Oklahoma) just three days before, speaks volumes about his character and his tenacity.”
Vance kept the Horned Frog bats relatively in check, lasting 6 1/3 innings on the mound, allowing four runs on 10 hits while striking out 12.
He lasted long enough on the mound for West Virginia to get back into the ball game.
WVU scored three runs on four hits and with the help of an error in the third. Kyle Davis tied himself with former Nebraska player Dan Johnson for the Big 12 tournament record in RBI when he doubled home a run.
Jackson Cramer drove in a run with a single, but the rally was cut short on a double play as result of the next at bat.
The three-run third cut the deficit to 8-3.
Darius Hill, West Virginia’s top hitter on the year who had been quiet thus far through the tournament, had a big day at the plate, early on especially. His triple over the head of right fielder Austin Wade in the fourth cleared the bases, and brought West Virginia back to within two, 8-6.
After TCU scored a run on a sac fly in the top half of the fifth, the Mountaineers added on to their run total by scoring four runs in the bottom half of the frame, all coming with two outs.
Two of those runs came around to score on a double to left field by Davis, giving him the tournament record, and giving West Virginia the lead at 10-9.
“We just keep coming back, and coming back, and coming back,” Mazey said. “That’s not really anything you can teach. Kids have that in their heart.”
The score would remain the same until the ninth inning, but TCU had a chance to take back the lead in the seventh.
TCU loaded the bases with two outs, forcing Mazey to make a pitching change and bring in B.J. Myers to relive Vance.
Myers, though wild at first, came back against the only batter he faced in the inning, striking out Cam Warner on a full count to keep the lead in tact.
That lead would disappear in the ninth on an RBI sacrifice fly by Ryan Merrill that tied the game at 10 runs apiece.
West Virginia couldn’t win it in the ninth, sending the game into extras.
Hitting with one out and no one on, Baker got a pitch he liked and drove it well over the fence in left to give TCU a lead it would not surrender.
With the victory, TCU earns an automatic big to the NCAA tournament, with Regionals starting this coming weekend. The Horned Frogs now have a chance to be a Regional host.
Baker was named Most Outstanding Player of the tournament. He, along with five other TCU players were selected for the All-Tournament team.
For West Virginia, its dream of making it to the program’s first NCAA tournament appearance since 1996 still hangs in the balance. The Mountaineers, along with all the other teams, will find out who makes the tournament Monday.
Four Mountaineers players, including Davis and Vance, were selected as part of the All-Tournament team.