Brayden Taylor breaks program home run record, leads TCU to Big 12 Tournament semi-final

TCU’s Brayden Taylor ties TCU’s all-time home run record against Kansas State on May 24, 2023. (Photo courtesy of

By Charles Baggarly

ARLINGTON – Brayden Taylor stepped up to the plate in the sixth inning with the Horned Frogs leading the Jayhawks by a couple of runs in the winner’s side of the Big 12 Tournament. Taylor tied the program home run record on Wednesday in a 16-3 victory over Kansas State; he didn’t share the title of Horned Frog home run king for long.

Taylor turned on the second pitch he saw, sending the ball over the fence in right field to make TCU history. The junior third baseman continued on to tally his seventh hit of the Big 12 Tournament on Thursday, leading the Horned Frogs to a 14-4 win and consecutive run-rule victories.

Taylor reflected on the historic moment, mentioning he could feel the love from his teammates, coaches and the TCU fans at Globe Life Field.

“It just really showed me that this is a lot bigger than baseball,” Taylor said. “I’m very grateful for all of the friendships and the brotherhood that I’ve made during my time here.”

Although Taylor said the moment was nice, he’s focused on continuing to build momentum as TCU’s postseason run continues.

“Jobs not done yet,” Taylor said. “We still got the rest of the season to play.”

Earning a day off

TCU will receive a day off while Kansas State and Kansas battle for a spot in the semifinal; the Frog bullpen can rest and prepare for the coming games. Whichever team plays TCU on Saturday will have to win twice, while TCU needs one win to advance to the Big 12 Championship.

Saarloos said the day off is a “huge deal” and added catcher Karson Bowen and the other position players could use some rest. With the exception of Luke Savage, Saarloos anticipates all bullpen pitchers to be available.

 “The big thing is making sure that we rest up, but we have the same mentality and attitude when we show up on Saturday at 9 a.m.,” Saarloos said. “Really, it doesn’t mean anything unless we go ahead and take care of business and play like we’ve been playing.”

TCU played Kansas on Thursday. They defeated K-State on Wednesday and finished the regular season with a series win in Manhattan, Kansas.

The teams are used to each other, but TCU will keep the same approach according to Saarloos, who said the team has been playing “playoff baseball” for the last three weeks.

“It comes down to us executing our game plan and playing with the mentality that we’ve been playing,” Saarloos said.

Saarloos mentioned TCU is currently having more fun than any other point in the 2023 season.

“And it’s fun that it’s at this point in the year,” Saarloos said. “So I’m just excited for Saturday morning, whoever we’re playing, to sit back and watch these guys go out and compete.”

TCU has hit three home runs in the Big 12 Tournament, and they’ve been celebrating inside the dugout by wearing a green hat. According to Taylor, the hat has a different theme depending on what movie designated hitter Kurtis Byrne watches during the week.

“[Byrne] was watching the movie ‘Cars’, the first one, and the saying that we do is ka-chigga, which is Chick Hick’s motto in the movie,” Taylor said. “And so that was all [Byrne] was saying at the time. And so we ordered a Chick Hicks hat. And so now that’s our new home run celebration.”

A season saving turnaround

Just a few weeks ago, TCU was firmly inside the postseason danger zone. After 12 wins in a 14 game stretch, TCU is having fun; the Horned Frogs have all but solidified a spot in an NCAA regional.

The returning veterans played a big role in turning around TCU’s offense. During the final stretch of the regular season and the opening games of the Big 12 Tournament, Taylor, Byrne, Nunez and Maxwell are playing their best baseball.

“We got tired of losing games,” centerfielder Elijah Nunez said. “We have to step it up. … We were doing our jobs every now and then, but we can do better. [The veterans] can set the example, and I just think we came together as a collective group and said, ‘our backs are against the wall and we have to go.’ So I just think that’s what we did. And we’re just gonna keep going.”

Saarloos said a lot of the offense’s turnaround has started with Nunez, who has tallied three base hits in consecutive Big 12 Tournament games.

 “[Nunez] got hot and I think it just trickled all the way down,” Saarloos said. “If you look at when this whole thing kind of started in terms of our offense and us playing better, I think it had a direct correlation to the guy that set the tone at the top of the order and playing centerfield.”

Building momentum

TCU’s offense is scorching hot, and they stayed hot against Kansas. Taylor led the way with four hits, three of which were for extra bases. Second baseman Tre Richardson, shortstop Anthony Silva, left fielder Logan Maxwell Byrne and Nunez also produced multi-hit games.

“The offense picked up right where they left off,” Saarloos said. 

Kansas battled, keeping the ballgame close until the Horned Frogs broke the game open with a five run fifth inning.

“I thought Kansas did a really good job in terms of having a game plan against Kole [Klecker] and made it hard for him in the first three innings,” Saarloos said. “… [Kansas] is a lot different of a team than when we played them in March.”

Klecker allowed three runs in three innings of work; the bullpen limited Kansas’ offensive production the rest of the way. Savage allowed one earned run in three 1/3 innings, and Ben Abeldt recorded five outs, giving up one hit.

“Our bullpen was the turning point for us in terms of getting out to a five-to-three-lead and then only giving up one the rest of the way,” Saarloos said. “The offense kind of took care of the rest.”