(photo by Craig Jackson, @leftfieldlounge)
OMAHA, Neb. – The moniker might just stick.
Senior Brian Howard (pictured) was dominant again in a post-season game, working 7.0 innings and matching his career best with 12 strikeouts as sixth-seeded TCU eliminated Texas A&M by a score of 4-1 in the College World Series Tuesday afternoon at TD Ameritrade Park.
The Horned Frogs (48-17) will play on Thursday evening at 7 p.m. against the loser of Tuesday’s Florida-Louisville contest. The Aggies end their season at 41-23.
Howard (12-3) scattered five hits, allowed one run and did not walk a batter.
“The story of today was Brian Howard,” said Jim Schlossnagle, TCU head coach. “And ‘Big Game Howie’, as he’s affectionately known in Fort Worth, showed up today. Just amazing through the great pitching history of our program in the last 14 years, with a lot of really good pitchers, Big Leaguers, that kind of thing, and for Brian to be the only back-to-back 10-game-or-more winner in our program is an awesome statement for him and Coach [Kirk] Saarloos and the program in general.”
Over his past four starts, Howard has hurled 30.0 innings with 17 hits, four runs, 1.20 ERA, five walks and 38 strikeouts. Those include wins over Kansas in the Big 12 tourney, Dallas Baptist in the Fort Worth Regional, Missouri State in the Fort Worth Super Regional, and TAMU in the College World Series.
Howard only allowed multiple hits in one inning. Only two of eight leadoff hitters reached base.
“I think today was probably the best stuff I had all season,” Howard said. “I’m pumped I didn’t walk anybody. I didn’t give up any free bases. I felt like I was attacking the strike zone from the beginning and I was able to carry that through. We talked pregame about how aggressive that lineup was, and they were aggressive today. They’re a real good lineup. And I was able to make pitches and get some outs early in counts, which was good.”
The Aggies did not have many chances against Howard.
“Just don’t miss a fastball,” said Rob Childress, Texas A&M head coach . “That’s the best way to hit his breaking ball. We didn’t have a whole lot of opportunities. We fouled a lot of fastballs off. And, you know, he’s really good. I mean, I think that kid is going to pitch a long time. I don’t know what his numbers are against Texas A&M, but I would expect they’re pretty good.”
“He was coming in both sides of the plate with his fastball,” said Cole Bedford of TAMU. “And he was getting us to chase a little bit. I think we kind of got away from our approach early on.”
Nolan Brown had a leadoff double in the second and scored on a groundout by Connor Wanhanen to give TCU an early 1-0 edge.
The Frogs padded their lead in the third. Ryan Merrill, a senior from Omaha, homered into the bullpen in right to make it a 2-0 contest.
“I don’t hit many home runs,” Merrill said, “so I was sprinting. As soon as I saw it leave, that’s when it just hit me how cool that experience is.”
And his head coach was thrilled as well.
“I’m really happy for Ryan Merrill,” Schlossnagle said. “What an awesome opportunity for a guy who is from Omaha. He went to junior college across the river and was drafted out of junior college and could have never shown up at TCU. But I remember we were up at practice that June, right after he’d been drafted. He assured me he wanted to come to TCU because he wanted an opportunity to play in his hometown in the College World Series. And so for him to get to do that two years in a row and hit a home run in TD Ameritrade, what an awesome story.”
Howard was excited about his roommate’s home run.
“I normally sit down against the back wall and take everything in and try not to show any emotion or move or really cheer while we’re on offense while I’m pitching,” Howard said. “But immediately when it was hit, I jumped up onto the top rail and started going nuts. That was just a special moment for everyone, his parents, it was just really neat to see that. He always tells me stories about ‘I saw them win the national championship here.’ He’s been here since he was a kid, and to see him do that was really special.”
Later in the third, Zach Humphreys was hit by a pitch and came home on a double by Evan Skoug, and Skoug scored on a single by Elliott Barzilli as the lead grew to 4-0.
The Aggies scratched for a run in the sixth. Austin Homan had a leadoff single, the first time in the game TAMU put its leadoff hitter on. Bedford’s one-out double moved Homan to third and a groundout by Braden Shewmake drove in Homan to make it 4-1.
Howard gave up a leadoff double to George Janca in the eighth. Enter sophomore Sean Wymer. He struck out Homan looking. He coaxed Nick Choruby into a comebacker to the mound. Wymer looked Janca back to second and three Choruby out at first. He fanned Bedford to end the threat.
Wymer rolled three groundouts in the ninth to record his second save.
“It was special for me to see what he did before me,” Wymer said, “and I did the same thing in the Super Regional too. So it means a lot to see him go out there and do what he does and then finish the game for him. So pretty special.”