(special to CollegeBaseballInsider.com, photo by Michael Clements)
FORT WORTH, Texas – TCU rode veteran starting pitcher Brian Howard (pictured) to an 8-1 win and a fourth consecutive College World Series on Sunday night in Game 2 of the Fort Worth Super Regional against Missouri State.
Howard tossed 7.1 innings of one-run ball, striking out 11 Bears hitters and surrendering only four hits en route to his 11th win of the season. Howard is 3-0 since the start of the Big 12 Tournament with a 1.17 ERA and 26 strikeouts in 23 innings.
What’s even better about it? He wasn’t expected to come back for his senior season.
“The thing that makes me most proud is that he came back to school,” TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle said. “He was a 17th- round pick, and everybody wants to realize their dream of playing professional baseball. He felt like the school and the program had given him so much that he needed to repay that.”
In his career, Howard always has been his best in the clutch for TCU (47-16). In 12 postseason appearances, he is 6-0 with a 1.68 ERA in 64.1 innings with 72 strikeouts.
“I wish I knew, cause then I’d do it through the whole year,” Howard said about what makes him better in crunch time. “A lot of it is this crowd and these fans. It’s easy to ride that momentum once you get these guys behind you.”
For Missouri State, a second Super Regional trip in three years saw it fall just short of the promised land. The Bears (43-20) fought their way through a stacked Fayetteville Regional but ran into an experienced Horned Frogs club in their home ballpark.
“What a great opponent with future big leaguers on the club,” Schlossnagle said. “What we saw this weekend was two really good teams with the value of getting to play at home.”
Missouri State star third baseman Jake Burger, a projected first-round draft pick in Monday’s Major League Draft, said that he believes the Bears program has even brighter years ahead.
“I think we have a lot of good younger players,” Burger said. “We have some leaders in the sophomore class like Hunter Steinmetz and Jeremy Eierman, so it’s their turn. I know we have some good recruits coming in so it wouldn’t shock me if they get to this sort of game again next year.”
Missouri State stayed within striking distance of TCU throughout most of the game. The teams traded a run in the first with Missouri State getting a leadoff home run from Hunter Steinmetz, but the Horned Frogs took the lead for good in the second on a run-scoring double from Elliott Barzilli.
TCU opened it up to 4-1 in the third when Evan Skoug hit his second home run in as many days and his fourth in five NCAA tournament games. The long ball was Skoug’s 20th of the season and 16th in the past 33 games.
After the fifth, Missouri Valley Conference Pitcher of the Year Jake Fromson came in to relieve Bears ace Doug Still (8-3). Fromson kept Missouri State within striking distance until the ninth inning, allowing a lone run in the sixth to make it 5-1.
In the ninth, Barzilli hit a three-run home run to cap off a perfect 5-0 start to the NCAA Tournament for the Horned Frogs. TCU will be making its fourth straight trip to Omaha and fifth in the past eight years.
“I couldn’t be more excited to win and get back to Omaha,” Schlossnagle said. “Let’s see if we can’t hang around just a little bit longer than the last couple of years.”