One Run In the Sixth
Sometimes one run is all you need. One go-ahead run, in this case.
Sure, TCU would have loved to have broken the game open in the bottom of the sixth. Tied 3-3 with Kansas State, the game to that point was defined by matching one-run frames in the fourth and two-run frames in the fifth. Both teams had a home run — Kurtis Byrne of TCU and Raphael Pelletier of Kansas State.
But the Horned Frogs put Kansas State in a bind by loading the bases after Brayden Taylor was hit by a pitch, Cole Fontenelle drew a walk and Tre Richardson reached on a fielder’s choice sacrifice bunt that loaded the bases with no one out.
That was danger time for Kansas State reliever Owen Boerema, who came on in place of starter Collin Rothermel to give up the sac bunt. Getting out of the inning giving up just one run included a fielder’s choice 6-4-3 double play on an Anthony Silva ground ball and a strikeout of Byrne, which was initially called a hit by pitch until it was reviewed by the umpires and ruled a foul tip strike three.
So Kansas State escaped giving up one run and TCU missed a chance to blow the game open. It gave the Wildcats a chance to stay within striking distance.
TCU managed to put two more on the board in the bottom of the eighth to give its bullpen some insurance.
But that sixth inning proved pivotal for both teams, even if it was just one run.
Starting Pitchers Get it Done
In a conference tournament, once you get to the fourth day, finding starting pitching can be a challenge. Both coaches chose well on Saturday.
Kansas State went with Rothermel, who before Saturday was 1-2 with a 6.17 ERA in seven games (five starts). He had thrown just 23 1/3 innings this season.
He three-hit the Horned Frogs in five-plus innings. Now, some of it wasn’t pretty. He gave up four runs (three earned) and walked three. He only struck out one. He hit a batter. But the point is to keep your team in the game and he did it. The three errors Kansas State definitely hurt.
Same went for TCU starter Sam Stoutenborough, who went a little farther than Rothermel — 5 2/3 innings. Before Saturday he was 3-0 with a 4.25 ERA in 48 2/3 innings. In his last four starts he gave up a total of four earned runs.
Kansas State got to him, as he gave up nine hits and three runs (all earned). But he only walked one hitter and struck out three. He managed to work around a lot of traffic to hand the ball off to Ben Abeldt in the sixth, who went the rest of the way and held the Wildcats scoreless.
Abeldt was fantastic, striking out seven in 3 1/3 innings and keeping the Wildcats from getting any traction.
For a Saturday morning semifinal game where the two teams had already played a combined five games, it was a crisp, entertaining game set up by a pair of solid starting pitchers.
TCU’s Chance to Shine Again
The Horned Frogs will seek their fourth Big 12 Tournament title on Sunday. The Horned Frogs previously won the 2014, 2016 and 2021 league tournament crowns. The Horned Frogs are hard to beat when it comes to league tournament title games.
How hard to beat? The Horned Frogs are 8-1 in those games. They’ve won nine in the last 17 years (their 2005 title game with Tulane was rained out, hence the 8-1 record). The Horned Frogs have won titles in three difference conferences and in six different locations.
But they’ve never won a league crown at Globe Life Field. That will be the challenge on Sunday at 5 p.m. central time.
As for Kansas State, they Wildcats will await their draw in the NCAA Tournament. As of Saturday, the Wildcats were projected to be a No. 3 seed in the Clemson Regional by Baseball America.
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard