‘It was a weird game’: TCU defeats Oral Roberts, remains alive at College World Series


TCU left fielder Logan Maxwell tallied a double in a 6-1 College World Series win over Oral Roberts on June 20, 2023. (Photo courtesy of GoFrogs.com)

By Charles Baggarly

OMAHA – The Horned Frogs, once again, are staying alive in the College World Series.

In a game filled with reviews and challenges, TCU defeated Oral Roberts 6-1 in an opening-game rematch. The Horned Frog offense jumped ahead with a four-run fifth inning, and the bullpen held onto the lead.

The Golden Eagle offense threatened in the ninth inning by loading the bases. Cohen Feser struck out Matt Hogan looking to strand three and eliminate Oral Roberts.

TCU will face Florida in an elimination game at 1 p.m. Wednesday. The Horned Frogs will need to defeat Florida twice to advance to the College World Series Championship.

“Oral Roberts, as we know, leads the country in run differential from the seventh inning on,” Saarloos said. “So they’re never out of a baseball game. And especially after Friday night, being able to come back and secure the victory today was really awesome. Hats off to [Oral Roberts]. Winning 52 games is hard to do. And they had an amazing season.”

Starting pitcher Cam Brown was asked if revenge was a motivating factor ahead of the ballgame, given Oral Robert’s win over TCU on Friday. Brown said it wasn’t.

“I mean, we’re playing in Omaha and in an elimination game,” Brown said. I think that is the motivation we needed. We’ve been doing it all year with our backs against the wall.”

Centerfielder Elijah Nunez and designated hitter Kurtis Byrne tallied multi-hit games, leading the offense. Shortstop Anthony Silva and right fielder Austin Davis recorded one hit and secured two and one RBIs, respectively.

“It’s all about winning pitches especially down the stretch in that fifth inning on,” Byrne said. “.. Really just not trying to do too much and kind of let our training and everything take over.”

TCU’s entire starting lineup had a base hit with the exception of catcher Karson Bowen, who had a rough day behind the plate; Bowen had zero hits in five at-bats.

Jumping ahead early

After a scoreless inning from Brown and Oral Roberts starting pitcher Brooks Fowler, the TCU offense struck first. First baseman Cole Fontenelle walked, and Byrne doubled to set up the score; left fielder Logan Maxwell walked, and right fielder Austin Davis did the same, plating a run.

Byrne and Maxwell, once again, reached safely in the fourth inning. Byrne scored on a balk.

The next inning, Nunez sparked a scoring spree with a single to left field. After a walk from third baseman Brayden Taylor on a pitch violation, Fontenelle and second baseman Tre Richardson singled.

Byrne delivered again, picking up a sacrifice fly, and Silva delivered with a two-out, two-RBI single. All of a sudden, TCU was leading 6-0 with a four-run fifth inning.

Silva said TCU has been in “every situation possible” this season, which prepared them for the moment.

“We practice every situation possible,” Silva said. “That’s what we’ve been training all season long since the fall. And we just need to play our game, and that’s exactly what we did.”

Getting caught in a pickle

The Horned Frogs were in a position to add more damage in the sixth inning with two in scoring position and no outs. Bowen hit a ground ball to shortstop Mac McCroskey, who caught Nunez in a pickle.

Nunez was chased toward third and was tagged out. Davis stayed put and was forced off the bag by second baseman Blaze Brothers, who slid toward Nunez.

Even though Davis would’ve stayed on the bag without Brothers’ interference, Davis was ruled out after a review. On March 28, 2023, a similar play occurred during a regular season contest between LSU and Texas A&M; the same call was made.

Saarloos said it “didn’t matter” that Davis was forced off the bag because the umpire on the field did not call for obstruction amid the chaos of the play.

“The only thing they can review is the fact that he was off the bag and he was tagged out,” Saarloos said. “They can’t review if he was pushed off or not because it wasn’t ruled that way on the field.”

Even though Davis was pushed off the bag, the call had to be overturned.

“But I thought for the most part, in terms of the ruling on that and the ruling on the balk and the overturn on that, I thought that was done well, extremely well,” Saarloos said. “I thought they got the calls right. And obviously that one didn’t go our way. And it was mainly our fault for even putting ourselves in that position by our base runners.”

Later in the ballgame, Davis was given a delay of game warning for taking too long to get back to first base after an attempted steal.

Oral Roberts head coach Ryan Folmar called the game strange.

“It was a weird game, right, not just [the fifth inning],” Folmar said. “You looked throughout the game and it was just an awkward game. There was no rhythm. There was no flow. There was long breaks, on and on and on.”

Pitching powers the Horned Frogs

Brown ended the first inning with a double play and recorded a one-two-three inning in the second. The veteran right-hander got into some hot water in the third inning with two no-out walks; Brothers moved the runners over with a sacrifice fly.

Brown, in a tough spot, forced a shallow fly out and caught Justin Quinn, the Golden Eagles’ premier left-handed batter, looking with an 81 mph slider that had a vertical and horizontal break of five and seven inches, respectively. The TCU starter was pulled after allowing his first base hit of the ballgame, an infield single.

“I think a lot of times I get myself in trouble,” Brown said. ” … Just worrying about executing pitch to pitch. I don’t have to worry about who is hitting .300, .250, .450, whatever it may be, just executing pitch for pitch and trying to give my team the best chance to win is how I tried to go about it today.”

Brown has been in plenty of tough situations in 2023, and the Flower Mound product said he is comfortable facing them.

“When the pressure’s on, … just keep fighting and going pitch for pitch,” Brown said. “And when you’re focusing on winning just one pitch at a time, it really doesn’t seem like anything else is happening.”

Brown, hovering around 97 mph with the fastball, had a short and strong outing, allowing zero earned runs.

“I thought Cam, out of the gate, gave us nine good outs and got out of a key situation [in the third],” Saarloos said.

Brooks Fowler also had a short start; the right hander was pulled after three innings. Associate head coach TJ Bruce’s TCU offense made Fowler, who threw 63 total pitches, work for outs.

The two Golden Eagle relievers that followed Fowler, Joshua Caravalho, and Caleb Isaacs, struggled to limit the Horned Frogs. Mental mistakes plagued Caravalho, who was called for a balk and a pitch violation that resulted in a walk after giving up two base hits.

The Golden Eagles bullpen allowed five earned runs. On the other hand, The Horned Frog bullpen allowed one; the Golden Eagles scored on Luke Savage in the fifth with an RBI single.

Hunter Hodges tossed two 1/3 scoreless innings, and Feser slammed the door with two of his own.

“I thought [Hodges and Feser] were huge in terms of us moving forward if we got the opportunity to play tomorrow,” Saarloos said. “To be able to get four and a third innings from two guys who haven’t been used a whole lot in the last two weeks. That was pivotal.”