Rice lefthander Bobby Bramhall, sporting a 0.47 ERA in his last nine appearances, ran into some uncharacteristic problems in the eighth. With one out, Diego Seastrunk made his fourth error of the tournament, followed by a walk to lefty Bryan Kervin. That brought Ben Carruthers to the plate as the go-ahead run with one out in the top of the ninth.
Bramhall got Carruthers on a soft fly ball to left, bringing up the limping Kirk Gibson hopeful, Keith Conlon, pinch hitting in the DH spot. With the crowd on its feet, a fired-up Bramhall whiffed Conlon on a change-up to end TCU's season and send the Owls to the super regionals.
Joe Savery just left the game to a standing ovation from the entire crowd, including the TCU fans, which is a touch of class. His teammates waited in the dugout for the high-fives, allowing Savery time to tip his cap, which you don't see very often at Reckling Park.
Savery left (remaining as the DH, however) after a leadoff single in the top of the eighth. He allowed six hits in seven-plus innings pitched, striking out three, walking one and hitting one batter. He has allowed one run so far, turning one inherited runner over to fellow junior lefthander Bobby Bramhall, Rice's most consistent reliever.
First pitch change-up, 6-4-3 double play. Nothing to it. A cross between Tom Glavine and John Franco, Bramhall followed up the double play with a strikeout of Austin Adams to end the top of the eighth.
After not being very convincing and allowing a run in the fourth, Joe Savery settled down in a big way in the fifth and sixth, facing one over the minimum and allowing just a single and a hit batter. Classmate Brian Friday has been Savery's best friend defensively, but he has found command of his fastball for the moment and looked as poised as I've seen him in the sixth.
With a man in scoring position and two down, Savery K'd Bryan Kervin with a heater on the outside corner to keep it a 2-1 game. It was Savery's second strikeout in a very quiet but effective start that has Savery on a fast track to the regional's Most Outstanding Player award if Rice can hold on tonight. Savery has averaged a little more than five innings per start this year, although he was on a strict pitch count early in the year, but he looks like he might be able to give the Owls seven innings today.
He just scored an insurance run for himself after reaching on an error, advancing to second base on a sacrifice bunt by Diego Seastrunk and scoring on the first hit of the weekend from Rice's leading power hitter, Aaron Luna. Derek VerHagen is now coming on in relief of Chase Perry, who gave TCU an excellent outing.
A couple of adventures in center and right field have put some runs on the board, and Rice leads 2-1 after four innings.
In the top of the fourth, TCU pushed a run across against Joe Savery by loading the bases with one out on two singles and a walk. On a long fly ball from Ben Carruthers, Rice centerfielder Tyler Henley ran the ball down but had the ball pop out of his glove, allowing all the runners to advance one base. Savery got out of the jam with a very well-turned 6-4-3 double play.
Savery then came up in the bottom of the inning and took out his frustration, crushing the first pitch he saw down the left-field line for a double. A double from freshman Diego Seastrunk (third lowest OBP on the team but hitting fifth) plated Savery to tie the game. One out later, Jess Buenger's curving drive to right field eluded the dive of rightfielder Austin Adams, but Adams got up to throw out Seastrunk on a very close 9-3-2 play at the plate. TCU catcher Andrew Walker made a tremendous play to block the plate as Seastrunk slid in. Rice took the lead anyway when the next batter, Danny Lehmann, singled through the right side to score Buenger.
Then with No. 9 hitter Adam Zornes (lowest OBP on the team but Savery's regular catcher) due up, Rice head coach Wayne Graham called time out to contemplate making a change, although Zornes missed the memo and stayed in the box briefly. Graham left Zornes in long enough for him to pop up, then replaced him with veteran Travis Reagan in the top of the fifth.
In that inning, Savery - a remarkably inefficient pitcher much of the season - needed only five pitches thanks to a double play and a regular 6-3 from shortstop Brian Friday, who is making every defensive play look easy in this tournament. 2-1 Rice as we go to the bottom of the fifth.
TCU starter Chase Perry is doing the job so far, keeping Rice off the scoreboard despite allowing two baserunners in each of the first two innings. A double play and a caught stealing have kept Rice from getting a runner to second base.
On the other side, Joe Savery has thrown a lot of pitches (47 through three innings) and survived a number of hard-hit balls thanks to solid defense. His defense has also cost him a few pitches, with Jess Buenger booting a ball at second base and Diego Seastrunk throwing wildly for the umpteenth time in this tournament (on a tough play).
Still 0-0 through three innings in the early evening sunshine as Rice just wasted a two-out triple from the red-hot Jared Gayhart. Excellent crowd on hand yet again; the smallest crowd in this tournament has been more than 3,000, and this will be another one well over the 4,000 mark.
On a side note, just about everybody at this regional is pulling for Sam Houston State in its crazy regional; the Bearkats now need to beat Ole Miss twice.
We are underway in Game 6 at Reckling Park, with TCU needing to beat Rice once tonight and once tomorrow night to upset the Owls. Little used senior righthander Chase Perry (0-1, 5.14) will start for TCU. He has only made nine appearances this year, including three starts. Rice will go with junior lefthander Joe Savery (9-1, 2.91) who has been slightly more inconsistent than the numbers show but is still a very polished and experienced southpaw.
The biggest plus in the pitching matchup for TCU? Savery's throwing hand. According to TCU head coach Jim Schlossnagle (and empirical evidence in this tournament), the Horned Frogs are "susceptible to right handed pitchers with an above average breaking ball." That describes Rice's Chris Kelley, who is being held for tomorrow's game. TCU has eight right-handed batters in the lineup against Savery, who worked a scoreless first.
Ballgame. TCU 10, Baylor 5. TCU sophomore Taylor Cragin was excellent in relief (TCU's relievers have been better than their starters), allowing just one run in four innings and striking out four batters while walking none. Randall Linebaugh's terrific performance came undone in the ninth with Cassevechia on the mound.
TCU now has to beat Rice twice, and nobody knows who the Horned Frogs will pitch. Joe Savery is the most likely pitcher for the Owls, although Chris Kelley could get it if Wayne Graham has a change of heart.
All this regional had been missing was a ninth-inning rally, and TCU delivered in a big way just a few minutes ago.
Trailing 5-3, No. 8 hitter Ben Carruthers led off with a single against Randall Linebaugh, the first runner to reach for TCU since the fourth inning. Baylor head coach Steve Smith then pulled Linebaugh, whose pitch count was not an issue, in favor of junior closer Nick Cassavechia. TCU countered with injured slugger Keith Conlon as a pinch hitter. Conlon was hit on a 2-0 fastball and immediately replaced by pinch runner Brandon Furrow. After a sacrifice bunt, we got the strangest play of the inning.
Steven Trout chopped a 2-2 pitch through the right side, scoring Carruthers. Baylor's Paul Miles made a perfect throw to home plate in plenty of time to get Furrow, but the pitcher-turned-runner came up with a great feet-first slide that knocked the glove off the hand of Baylor catcher Matt Czimskey and sent the baseball bouncing into the TCU dugout. That tied the game and sent Trout all the way to third base.
After an intentional walk, an Austin Adams single through the left side gave TCU a 6-5 lead with one out. But the biggest blow was still to come, as leftfielder Matt McGuirk (a defensive replacement hitting .198) flared a soft fly ball to left field that got into the first out-blowing wind all weekend and cleared the left-field fence for a grand slam. Unbelievable inning in which TCU got seven runs on four hits. TCU 10-5 into the bottom of the ninth.
What a turnaround. In the bottom of the fourth, Baylor trailed 3-0 and had shown only paltry signs of life. It really looked like the Bears were just cruising through the game. But they turned it on in a big way and lead 5-3 as we go to the eighth.
The biggest change has been junior righthander Randall Linebaugh, who spent most of the year as the Saturday starter but struggled to a 3-5 record and 6.24 ERA and was eventually demoted to the bullpen. He has been filthy in this game, with a good power slider complementing his fastball. Linebaugh has retired 13 in a row now from the fourth through the eighth, including five strikeouts. TCU has 8-9-1 due up in the top of the ninth.
Both closers - Sam Demel for TCU and Nick Cassavechia for Baylor - are warming up. We could have quite a finish if TCU shows some of the fight it displayed in last night's game.
Baylor has reversed its course with two runs in the fourth and one in the fifth against Chance Corgan to take a 4-3 lead as we head to the sixth inning. The Bears finally found some clutch hitting and we now have what's shaping up to be a heck of a game.
It appeared to be business as usual in the fourth, when Matt Czimskey popped up weakly on a 3-1 pitch for the second time in the game with a man on. But Dustin Dickerson and Matt Sodolak followed with back-to-back RBI doubles to make it 3-2. In the fifth, a one-out walk to Ben Booker set the stage for a bloop double from Raynor Campbell on a hit-and-run. For once, Jim Schlossnagle didn't read Steve Smith's mind. After an RBI groundout tied the game, Beamer Weems chopped a single up the middle to give Baylor its first lead of the game.
Elsewhere, the press box has been paying close attention to the Texas-Wake Forest game in which Augie Garrido used Joseph Krebs and Randy Boone extensively for the third day in a row. Austin Wood, who closed today's game in the 12th, is the best guess up here to start the nightcap for UT. Comic relief has come in the form of fans trying to peer through the press box window to see the out of town scoreboard. One fan has been training his binoculars on the scoreboard from about three rows away.
Although TCU starter Chance Corgan has not looked sharp at all, he holds a 3-0 lead as we go to the fourth inning here. TCU added a run in the second inning against Kendal Volz, forcing Baylor to bring in junior Randall Linebaugh from the bullpen. The top of the TCU order - even without leading hitter Keith Conlon - has done all the damage, while the 5-9 hitters are a combined 0-for-8 today. On the other side, Corgan has only gotten ahead of three hitters early in the count (out of 11) but has gotten two double plays (on a 3-1 and a 2-0 pitch, respectively) to keep Baylor off the scoreboard.
Right now, it's looking like a TCU-Rice rematch is extremely likely for tonight. Baylor has not shown up today offensively, and I don't know if its bullpen can stand six innings against a very good Horned Frog lineup. The big question may be the TCU bullpen. If Corgan can go six or seven innings and/or TCU extends its lead, Jim Schlossnagle can avoid using his top arms and save them for the nightcap.
TCU is out to an early 2-0 lead after one inning in Houston this afternoon. The Horned Frogs jumped on Baylor starter Kendal Volz, who was outstanding in last weekend's Big XII Tournament, with a quick succession of opposite-field singles from their Nos. 2-4 hitters. The middle hit was a key hit-and-run called by Jim Schlossnagle, who has been on the money with his (and his opponents') running games this weekend. A groundout with the bases loaded plated a second run, but Volz escaped further damage.
In the bottom of the first, Baylor got two runners on but was unable to advance them, leading to several press-box mentions of TCU's hit-and-run game against Baylor's station-to-station approach. We'll see how this one progresses.
Also, props to St. John's for its walkoff win over VCU; we got to watch that one here in the press box. With that game ending, however, I'm going to go catch some sun and enjoy the atmosphere.
We're getting ready for the afternoon elimination game between Baylor and TCU. Ought to be a good one; these teams played a very tense 3-2 game on Friday afternoon. Chance Corgan (7-1, 4.320 will pitch for TCU against freshman righthander Kendal Volz (6-2, 4.88) for Baylor.
I'm not a big fan of TCU's uniforms this afternoon. I could stand the purple-on-gray pinstripes, but the white lettering across the chest really gets to me. Kinda reminds me of the Blue Jays uniforms a few years ago, but uglier. Check them out for yourselves at this link (generously recommended by TCU SID Brandie Davidson, unaware of my ulterior motive) and hosted by a TCU fan.
Sorry for the delay, but the final few innings were kind of hard to process. TCU made things interesting, but Rice held on for a 6-3 win that puts the Owls squarely in the driver's seat for the regional. The Horned Frogs will face Baylor at 2 p.m. tomorrow, while Rice awaits the winner at 6 p.m. Starting pitchers are uncertain, but the smart money is on Chance Corgan for TCU and Joe Savery from Rice. Steve Smith did not name his for Baylor.
There has not been a lot of drama in this one. Rice scored two runs in the top of the fifth on a no-doubt home run from Jared Gayhart (who went 2-for-3 and still got pinch-hit for) and added a run in the sixth while chasing starter Chris Johnson. Righthanded reliever Tyler Lockwood has looked very good so far for TCU, however.
On the Rice pitching side, Ryan Berry has had momentary control problems but leads 5-2 and has given up very little except for a pair of solo home runs. TCU centerfielder Keith Conlon, limited to DH duties with a hamstring injury, just tripped while running through first base on an infield single and had to leave the game. That's a big worry for TCU in the larger picture of this weekend.
Back-and-forth here in Houston, with a slight edge to Rice. TCU's only run came on a Keith Conlon solo homer, and the other Horned Frog batters have been well off-balance against Rice freshman Ryan Berry. He has been filthy so far; there's no other word for it.
Offensively, both Rice runs have come from opposite-field base hits from Rice star Joe Savery, who's in the lineup today at first base. He'll pitch later in the weekend.
Well, we're finally underway at Reckling Park in Houston, and it's better late than never. Rice against TCU in the winners' bracket, and of course, whoever wins will be in prime position to take this regional.
Freshman righthander Ryan Berry for Rice, which is the visiting team, against junior righthander Chris Johnson for TCU. Rice jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first against a shaky Johnson on a line-drive single from Joe Savery. Then Berry struck out the side swinging on 12 pitches. But the biggest cheer of the night so far came with the announcement of the UT-UC Irvine score.
At 6:15, I thought there was no way we would play Game 4 tonight, but they've done quite a job squeegeeing right field (ruining much of the grass in the process), and it definitely looks playable at the moment. However, they still have to pull the tarp and get rid of that water somehow. Reckling Park does not drain well (one of Wayne Graham's top priorities for the offseason is fixing the field's drainage), so this could get interesting.
Baylor breezed to a 9-2 win, with Cliff Springston throwing the last two innings in relief of Tim Matthews, thereby saving the Baylor bullpen. Looks like I jinxed the second game, because there is a steady rain coming down, and the field is tarped now. I'll let you know if there's any change in the start time.
My favorite quote from the postgame press conference: Prairie View coach Michael Robertson: "I thought we were somewhat lethargical on defense." Lethargical. Terrific word. Prairie View hit the ball hard today but right at fielders on several occasions, and I think the Panthers would have stood an excellent chance to win a game in a different regional. Baylor has to be one of the toughest No. 3 seeds in the country. As for the Bears, Steve Smith said Matthew's seven innings pitched were "just what the doctor ordered."
EDIT: Rice-TCU has been moved to a 6:30 p.m. start time.
Baseball never ceases to amaze me. Prairie View A&M was just called for batting out of order in the top of the eighth inning. Head coach Michael Robertson has made six changes, all on the defensive side, which has kept the press box constantly in the dark about who is batting in what spot.
In the eighth, replacement rightfielder Oscar Goldman (the third rightfielder of the day) came to bat with one on and one out in the eighth. Leftfielder Arthur Christal was due up after replacing starting second baseman Spenser Dennis in the fourth inning as part of a double switch. Christal had already batted in the No. 4 spot earlier in the game, but this time Goldman apparently talked him out of it. After a bad-hop single put runners at the corners, Baylor head coach Steve Smith informed the umpires of the infraction, and Christal was called out and the runner sent back to first base. Confusing, I know, but something I've never seen before.
Yikes. We're in the eighth now, Baylor up 8-2. We had brief rain showers, and there is an ominous cloud overhead, but it's sunny right now. Go figure. Still on schedule (knock on wood) for Rice-TCU at 6 pm CDT.
It's only the fifth inning, but this one is pretty much over. Baylor scored three runs in the third inning and two in the fifth to take a 7-1 lead after five innings. Wrandal Taylor battled gamely for Prairie View, but his defense gave him absolutely no help. He allowed seven runs in 4.2 innings pitched, and six were earned, but that doesn't tell the whole story. There were several plays that could have been made.
Beamer Weems has two doubles, and Shaver Hansen is three-for-three with three RBI for Baylor. Greg Ford drove in stolen-base machine Michael Richard (42 stolen bases for the season) with Prairie View's run in the fifth. Baylor righthander Tim Matthews has given Steve Smith everything he could have asked for, working in the sixth inning now.
Baylor is beating Prairie View at its own game right now, using aggressive baserunning and a few breaks to take a 2-0 lead after two innings.
In the first, Baylor's Ben Booker scored an unearned run without any Bear getting a hit. Booker walked, stole second, moved to third on a passed ball (which earned the catcher a "Nice hands, Tony Romo!" jeer from a leather-lunged fan) and scored on a grounder that was misplayed at second base. The Bears have two steals already. Baylor added a run in the second. With one out, the bottom of the order pieced together three consecutive singles. PV righthander Wrandal Taylor looked like he might get out of it after getting a ground-out at home, but he twitched almost imperceptibly for a balk to force in a run.
A strikeout ended the inning, but Prairie View trails 2-0 and is in danger of never getting into the game. Baylor's Tim Matthews has been adequate so far, but Prairie View is definitely getting its hacks. Matthews retired seven in a row before hitting a batter in the third. Still 2-0 Baylor as we go to the bottom of the third here.
We just saw a great contrast in approaches to catching a foul ball. Prairie View's Paul Johnson hit a towering pop-up into the first-base stands. Rice athletic director Chris Del Conte (sorry, Chris, but we needed a public figure to tease) ducked out of the way as the ball landed just a few feet away. To be fair, he might have lost it in the sun. On the next pitch, Johnson hit a curving line drive into the bleachers in foul territory down the right-field line. A Prairie View fan reached out and, while seated, caught it one-handed to protect the woman with whom he was sitting. Very casual and very well done.
On the field, Prairie View threatened with back-to-back singles and a balk with one out, but the runner at third base - Greg Ford - broke for home on a grounder to first and was tagged out. The Panthers really could have used an early lead, so head coach Michael Robertson was visibly upset.
Baylor head coach Steve Smith told me on Thursday that if he lost Game 1, he would play to win the tournament rather than just survive to Sunday. True to his word, Smith has elected to start junior righthander Tim Matthews in this afternoon's elimination game against Prairie View A&M.
A weekend starter early last year, Matthews (1-2, 5.30) has only started one game all season in addition to 22 relief appearances. He has pitched only 35.2 innings (max of five in his one start), and batters hit .333 against him. It could be a staffed game for the Bears if they get a lead but Matthews cannot go deep into the game. If Prairie View keeps it close, Smith might elect to call on Randall Linebaugh or Nick Cassavechia to make sure Baylor plays tomorrow.
Prairie View is countering, predictably enough, with its own junior righthander, Wrandal Taylor (9-5, 3.61). He can be plenty tough - he kept the Panthers in last year's regional opener against Rice. First pitch coming up in a few minutes on a sultry afternoon here in H-town. The crowd is just starting to fill in, but we could have a decent non-host crowd.
Day one of the Houston Regional is in the books, and favorites Rice and TCU both held form. Predictably, Rice did not have to sweat quite as much for its win - partially because the Owls were playing at night and partially because of dominant pitching and six Prairie View errors.
Rice won the nightcap 5-0 behind shutout pitching from Matt Langwell and Bobby Bramhall. PV stayed in the game until falling apart with four errors over the final two defensive innings that led to three runs.
Rice has expanded its lead to 4-0 as we go to the eighth. Starter Matt Langwell had a hiccup in the seventh but has struck out eight batters against just one walk through seven innings. Rice will probably try to get as much out of Langwell as possible to save Cole St.Clair and Bobby Bramhall in the bullpen.
Langwell got some needed run support in the seventh even though Rice did not have a hit in the inning.
We're going to the fifth inning, and Rice still leads 2-0. It's been business as usual so far for the Owls, but Prairie View is hanging around.
We've got a great crowd on hand for this one, packing the chair-back seats and the bleachers down both foul lines. It's also a more diverse crowd than at most college baseball games, since Prairie View is quite close and is a Historically Black University. Great atmosphere at the ballpark, and both sets of fans have actually had plenty of opportunities to cheer both teams.
By the way, on the topic of HBCUs, the Houston Chronicle's M.K. Bower (another Rice alumnus) had a great piece today on PV head coach Michael Robertson. You can read it here.
As Rice has failed to do in so many regional openers, the Owls have jumped out to an early lead against Prairie View A&M tonight. The Owls lead 2-0 after the first inning on the strength of a two-run homer by Tyler Henley.
Whew. TCU almost gave that one away, as closer Sam Demel lost his control in the ninth inning and loaded the bases before striking out leadoff hitter Ben Booker on a 3-2 pitch with the entire crowd of 3,386 (tickets sold) on its feet. Great ending to a solid game.
Beamer Weems led off the top of the ninth with a solo home run to right field to get Baylor back in the game. Matt Czimskey followed with a walk, part of a trend for Demel in the inning; he fell behind every batter and threw 29 pitches in the final frame.
TCU wasted absolutely no time in restoring its lead. Baylor's Jeff Mandel had been inducing fly ball after fly ball, recording 10 fly-ball outs in 6.1 innings, and everything hit in the air seemed to just die in a stiff cross-breeze blowing left to right. In the seventh, however, TCU's Andrew Walker crushed a fly ball to the opposite field that sailed well over the right-field wall for an impressive go-ahead home run. Walker proceeded to pull a Kirk Gibson and limp around the bases after apparently tweaking a hamstring rounding first base. Not what Jim Schlossnagle wanted to see, with his No. 3 hitter already hobbled by a hamstring injury. I'll keep you updated.
After a fly-ball out, shortstop Bryan Kervin pulled another fly ball over the right-field wall to make it 3-1 TCU. That spelled the end of the day for Mandel, who allowed only four hits. Three of the four, however, went for extra bases. Righthanded sidearmer Nick Cassavechia is on in relief for Baylor, which is only six outs away from dropping into the losers' bracket. 3-1 TCU after seven innings.
Baylor got back in the game in the top of the seventh inning, and we're 1-1 at stretch time.
Bear shortstop Beamer Weems opened the seventh by working an eight-pitch walk against Jake Arrieta. TCU head coach Jim Schlossnagle then went to the mound and removed ace Jake Arrieta, who had thrown only 90 pitches and not allowed a hit since the second inning. Arrieta finished with four strikeouts and four walks in 6+ innings. Schlossnagle went straight to closer Sam Demel, and that's when things fell apart.
TCU has only one hit against Baylor righthander Jeff Mandel - a second-inning double from Matt Vern - but the Horned Frogs took the lead without hit or error in the bottom of the fourth and currently lead 1-0 in the fifth.
We're underway in Houston, and there's no score in the bottom of the first.
No surprises here just yet. TCU's Jake Arrieta vs. Baylor's Jeff Mandel on the mound. The only question mark before the game was TCU centerfielder Keith Conlon's hamstring and, as expected, Conlon is in the lineup as the designated hitter. Clint Arnold moves over to center, with the light-hitting Steve Ellington (.210) batting ninth.
The powers that be scrubbed the scheduled press conference this afternoon, so I got to sit down with all four coaches one by one and get their thoughts on the tournament selection committee and the exciting four-team field here in Houston. A few good 'ol Texas boys on hand for this one.