By Nate Allen
FAYETTEVILLE – It took three hours and 23 minutes in high 80’s Sunday afternoon heat, but in the loser’s bracket final the third-seeded TCU Horned Frogs finally survived the Cinderella fourth-seeded Central Connecticut State Blue Devils, 9-5 to advance to Sunday’s late-night Fayetteville Regional Championship game at Baum-Walker Stadium against the hosting top-seeded Arkansas Razorbacks.
As the 4-team double-elimination tournament’s lone unbeaten, Arkansas played for the championship Sunday night but if defeated would rematch TCU for a 6 p.m. Monday winner take all championship game.
TCU of the Big 12 crushed second-seeded Pac 12 power California, 13-2 Friday but lost a 3-1 pitching duel to Arkansas starter Isaiah Campbell Saturday night.
The unheralded Northeast Conference Tournament champion Blue Devils, showing grit in Friday afternoon’s first-round loss to Arkansas and freshman Greenwood native starter Connor Noland. They stunned California, 7-4 in Saturday’s loser’s bracket and whacked 13 hits in Sunday’s total game 29-hit slugfest with the Horned Frogs.
Ultimately, Jake Eissler’s winning middle relief with Cal Coughlin closing the ninth enabled Coach Jim Schlossnagle’s Horned Frogs to overcome a gutsy 117-pitch start by losing CCSU right-hander Mike Appel, 6-1 for the Blue Devils sacking the bats at 31-23.
TCU took a 34-27 record into Sunday night’s game with Arkansas.
First baseman 3-hole Jake Guenther, 3 for 4 with a 2-run home run in the first, plus a triple and a single, paced TCU’s 19 hit attack as did cleanup hitter Austin Henry. Henry hit a 2-run home run in the third and 2-run single in the sixth for four RBI.
A 2-run home run by TCU 2-hole hitter Austin Wolfe’s in the eighth gave TCU a comfortable ninth after Peyton Stephens’ solo home run in the eighth brought the Blue Devils back to only down 7-5.
The Blue Devils took a 1-0 lead in the first off TCU starter Dawson Barr to overcome 2-1 by Guenther’s 2-run home run set up by a game-opening CCSU error. Nonetheless, defense held it to a 2-run homer because of CCSU center fielder Chris Kanios’ spectacular crashing against the wall and holding on catch of Wolfe’s blast before Guenther batted.
TCU center fielder Johnny Rizner also recorded a spectacular catch withstanding a sunglasses flying off collision with left fielder Josh Watson on Sam Loda’s second-inning clout stranding Blue Devils at first and second.
Stephens’ 2-run single gave CCSU a brief 3-2 lead overcome 4-3 then tied 4-4 in the fifth by back to back CCSU doubles by Dave Matthews and Buddy DeWaine, 3 for 5.
TCU went ahead to stay with a 3-run sixth off Appel and brought in early closer Jared Gallagher who also had pitched against California. Wolfe’s sacrifice fly produced the go-ahead run and Henry’s 2-run single provided the insurance.
Central Connecticut… 102 010 010 – 5 13 1
TCU……………………202 003 02x – 9 16 0
Appel, Gallagher (6), DeLease (8) and Loda; Barr, Eissler (3), Brown (8), Coughlin (9) and Isola.
W-Eissler (4-4). L-Appel (6-1).
HR-Central Connecticut: Stephens (6). HR-TCU: Guenther (10). Henry (7). Wolfe (7).