It took nearly six hours, but TCU punched its ticket to Omaha with a 16th inning win. (Shotgun Spratling)

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Instant Classic: TCU Outlasts A&M In 16 Innings

FORT WORTH, Texas — Maybe it was just youthful exuberance, but TCU freshman catcher Evan Skoug Tigger-bounced to the dugout like he knew he wouldn’t be donning the protective body armor any more.

It was the 16th inning and Mitchell Traver had just come back from a 3-0 count to add to TCU’s school record 25 strikeouts in a huge spot with Texas A&M runners on second and third.

That’s the same Evan Skoug that had just caught his 35th inning in three days — twice in blistering midday Texas heat and then Monday’s marathon game that started at 95 degrees and only cooled to 83 after the game had concluded. Despite the game approaching the six-hour mark, the Horned Frogs catcher spiked the ball and leapt three times on his return to the dugout.

When he left the dugout, Skoug departed with a bat in his hand. Rather than leaping, he took a deep breath and strolled to the lefthanded batter’s box. He rubbed some dirt on both sides of his hands since he had basically been sweating since he arrived at the ballpark. His jersey had been soaked through long ago. An aggressive hitter that likes to attack first-pitch fastballs, Skoug swung and fouled the first pitch from Ryan Hendrix out of play down the left field line.

In his previous at-bat, Skoug rocketed a first-pitch missile right back at Hendrix, plunking the pitcher in the forearm and ribs. The ball ricochetted to the first baseman, who fired home for a force out. Instead of a game-winning single up the middle for Skoug, Hendrix’s body saved the day and kept the Aggies alive in the 14th inning.

With the winning run at second base, Skoug went after another Hendrix fastball on 0-1. This time, he chopped it along the third base line. Substitute third baseman Ronnie Gideon backhanded the ball, but when he went to make his transfer the ball slid out of his glove, dropping to the grass beside the third base umpire.

Running from second, senior Garrett Crain had the play in front of him. When he saw the ball pop free, he never hesitated. He turned the corner and eschewing a stop sign, nearly ran through third base coach Bill Mosiello. Gideon pounced on the ball and came up firing home. The throw beat Crain by more than 10 feet, but Texas A&M catcher Michael Barash couldn’t pick the long hop. Though he applied a tag, the ball bounced by Barash and Crain slid in with the winning run to send TCU to the College World Series with a 5-4 extra-inning victory over the Aggies.

Gideon collapsed to the ground as did a couple of other Aggies while the Horned Frogs erupted from the dugout and chased after Skoug into center field. Almost all of the 7,294 in attendance stuck out six hours of baseball and were rewarded with a college baseball instant classic.

Epic. Enthralling. High intensity.

“In 25 years of coaching, that’s the best baseball game that I’ve ever been a part of,” TCU head coach Jim Schlossnagle said. “Unbelievable competition. I think one of the greatest college baseball games ever considering what was on the line.”

“If you’re a college baseball fan, you couldn’t have asked for anything more — Game 3 of a super regional to get to Omaha goes 16 innings,” Texas A&M head coach Rob Childress said. “It just breaks my heart it had to end the way it did.”

The numbers were ridiculous. 547 pitches over five hours and 55 minutes. Nineteen walks and 39 strikeouts. Logan Taylor logged eight at-bats for the Aggies. Both teams had a player go 0-for-6. Hunter Melton struck out four times. Skoug reached base five times. Hendrix threw 99 pitches a day after he pitched 2.1 innings. He walked seven, but also struck out five. Traver finished the game with four no-hit innings after Texas A&M’s Tyler Stubblefield, making just his second start of the season, started the game with a no-hitter through the first four innings, but the Horned Frogs first two hits both plated runs in the fifth inning to give them a 2-1 lead. They expanded it to 4-1 when Connor Wanhanen hit his first career home run with a two-run shot off the scoreboard — something Schlossnagle said he hasn’t even shown in batting practice.

Both teams had a plethora of opportunities in extra innings, but neither could break through. They combined to leave 33 runners on base in the game. Twelve of TCU’s 16 were after the first nine innings as the Horned Frogs got the leadoff runner aboard in the ninth, 10th, 12th, 13th, 14th and 16th innings and got a runner into scoring position in each of those frames. Texas A&M left runners on second and third in both the 11th and 16th innings.

But it was a pair of chances early in the game that were eating at Childress after the game. In the first inning, TCU starter Alex Young got back-to-back strikeouts to leave the bases loaded. Barash got Texas A&M on the board with a solo homer in the second inning. But in the third, the Aggies wasted another golden opportunity. They put runners on second and third with one out, but couldn’t get a run across as TCU got an out at the plate on a chopper to third base and then Young got another inning-ending strikeout.

“It certainly changed the outcome of the game,” Childress said of the early missed opportunities. “If we would have scored one in the first and third, we would have been done and out of here in the ninth and talking about us going to Omaha, but it just didn’t happen.”

Young settled into a groove after the third inning. He retired 13 of the last 15 batters he faced and finished with 10 strikeouts. He left the game with a 4-1 lead after allowing six hits in 6.2 innings. Trey Teakell was sterling in relief, other than one pitch. All four of his outs were recorded via strikeouts, but Nick Banks did hammer a solo home run in the eighth inning that trimmed TCU’s lead to 4-2.

TCU closer Riley Ferrell took over in the ninth inning, but didn’t last long. He hit Barash on a 3-1 pitch and walked Blake Allemand. Saturday’s starter Tyler Alexander came on for one batter and walked pinch hitter Nick Choruby to load the bases with no outs. Preston Guillory came on for TCU and did a nice job of limiting the damage, but a pair of RBI groundouts tied the score and sent the game tumbling into the 16-inning instant classic it became.

The Horned Frogs and Aggies left everything on the line. From TCU starting pitcher Alex Young to righthander Mitchell Traver, who hadn’t pitched all weekend, showing electric stuff, while on the other side, Tyler Stubblefield giving A&M a great start, and Ryan Hendrix coming out of the bullpen on fire, those individual performances and more make this one worth remembering for a long time.

It was the perfect primer of what to expect in Omaha.

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