Commentary

TCU evens series with Texas

Horned Frogs draw major league inspiration to force decisive game with Longhorns

Originally Published: June 7, 2009
By Tim Griffin | ESPN.com

AUSTIN, Texas -- Coming to the ballpark, TCU had no real concerns about the magnitude of the task it was facing.

Paul Gerrish
AP Photo/Chris CarsonTCU's Paul Gerrish stifled Texas in the Horned Frogs' Game 2 win, allowing two earned runs and five hits in seven innings.

You might think a team would buckle under the pressure of facing elimination against the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament in its home ballpark.

But not the Horned Frogs, who drew inspiration ahead of their matchup with Texas by watching a video of the 2004 Boston Red Sox and their improbable climb out of a 3-0 hole en route to an American League Championship Series win over the New York Yankees.

"We watched it coming to the ballpark," TCU pitcher Paul Gerrish said. "Seeing the Red Sox come back from that deficit kind of got us fired up a little bit."

Behind a superb pitching performance from Gerrish, the Horned Frogs evened their best-of-three series with the Longhorns, winning 3-2 at UFCU Disch-Falk Field.

"I'm a big Red Sox fan and I thought a lot about 2004 and the video I've seen when they were down 3-0," TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle said. "We talked to the team about that before we came out."

The Horned Frogs (40-17) were humbled in a 10-4 loss to the Longhorns on Saturday in their first super regional game in school history. But they were able to quickly put that miserable performance behind them, and will get a chance to punch their ticket to the College World Series when they face the Longhorns in Game 3 on Monday night at 7 ET (ESPN2, ESPN360).

"Texas has a great team and I'm sure they aren't panicking," Gerrish said. "But at the same time they are supposed to win this thing. Our guys were pretty loose today. We were looking forward to today and if we could win, to just playing tomorrow."

Gerrish, who is attending school on an academic scholarship, handcuffed the Longhorns with a steady diet of fastballs and sliders.

Texas produced only five hits against the junior right-hander, who struck out six in a scintillating 90-pitch effort. It marked only the third time this season he had thrown seven innings in a start.

"You just have to tip your hat to that guy. He threw well," Texas designated hitter Preston Clark said. "We didn't do anything really wrong. He just had an outstanding performance."

It was a huge turnaround from earlier in the season, when Gerrish struggled with tendinitis as he adjusted to his new role as a starter. Some of those effects were noticeable over his past four starts, when he produced an inflated ERA of 6.00.

But he made a conscious effort to get ahead in the count and limit his pitches against the Longhorns (45-14-1).

"I didn't have to go too deep in many counts," Gerrish said. "Coach talked about trying to get them out on three pitches or less. And that was my goal."

Gerrish's pitching was accentuated by TCU's slugging. Home runs by Matt Vern and Matt Carpenter accounted for all the scoring the Horned Frogs would need against losing pitcher Cole Green.

The Horned Frogs have slammed five homers in the series, accounting for all of their runs.

"We don't hit homers in every game," said Vern, who has hit two in the two games. "You can't go out and try to hit homers because they came off mistakes. And the few mistakes [Green] did make, we were able to hit out of the ballpark."

TCU thrived mainly because Texas was unable to get its leadoff hitter on base and use its vaunted bunting game to manufacture runs. The Longhorns' leadoff hitter failed to reach base in each of the first five innings. This after Texas produced an NCAA single-game record seven sacrifices in Saturday night's victory. The Longhorns failed on their only bunt opportunity when Michael Torres popped out after David Hernandez led off the sixth inning with a single.

[+] EnlargeMatt Carpenter
AP Photo/Chris CarsonMatt Carpenter hit one of TCU's two home runs in the Horned Frogs' 3-2 win over Texas in the Austin Super Regional.

Coming into the game, the Longhorns led the nation with 95 sacrifice hits and had produced 19 sacrifices in their first four tournament games. On Sunday, the Longhorns didn't have a runner reach second base in the first six innings.

Gerrish didn't walk a runner and reached a full count only four times in the game. Gerrish was particularly frustrating for leading Texas slugger Brandon Belt, who struck out all three times against him and had no explanation for his hitting struggles.

"To be honest with you, I have no idea," Belt said. "He kept on giving me the same pitch over and over and I couldn't hit it. Maybe I was just trying too hard."

The pressure now appears to be squarely on the Longhorns and their sometimes sputtering offense. Texas will start freshman right-hander Taylor Jungmann, who was roughed up for six runs and six hits in a 3 1/3 inning stint against Army in the Longhorns' deciding game of the Austin Regional.

The Longhorns will be facing an elimination game for the first time in the tournament as they attempt to make a record 34th trip to the College World Series.

"I think we'll be fine," Clark said. "We're not going to look at that as an elimination game tomorrow. We just have to play well. And if we play loose and we're right, we'll win the game. That's just how we play."

But the loose Horned Frogs are reveling in their position as spoiler and have another chance to watch the Red Sox on their way to the stadium Monday.

"The ultimate goal is to get a chance to get to Omaha," Carpenter said. "It sounds cliché, but we're just going to play the game one pitch at a time and try to do our thing. Whatever happens tomorrow happens, and hopefully it will end with our guys celebrating."

Tim Griffin covers college sports for ESPN.com. You may contact him at espntimgriff@yahoo.com.

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