June 9, 2014
FORT WORTH, Texas - The Pepperdine baseball team ended arguably its best season in 22 years with a heartbreaking 6-5 loss to TCU in the final game of the NCAA Super Regional on Monday. The Horned Frogs scored two runs in the top of the ninth to move to their second College World Series.
Pepperdine took a 5-4 lead into the ninth, but TCU doubled in the tying run with no outs and then laid down a perfect squeeze bunt to score the game-winning run from third base.
The Waves end the year 43-18, after advancing to their first ever Super Regional since the round was instituted in 1999. The Waves won their 17th regular-season WCC title and swept through the conference tournament in three games to earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Playing as the No. 3-seed in the San Luis Obispo Regional, the Waves went 3-0 to move on to face TCU in Fort Worth.
"If you had told me at the beginning of the season that with 18 freshman on the team we were going to get to the elimination game of the Super Regional, I probably would have laughed," said Pepperdine Head Coach Steve Rodriguez, who has now taken the Waves to the postseason six times in his 11 seasons. "But I'll tell you, the competitive nature of those guys throughout the year has been really impressive and I'm proud of them."
The Waves jumped out to an early lead when Brandon Caruso (Pasadena, Calif./Loyola HS) hit a two-run shot to left in the second inning. It was Caruso's third and fourth RBI's of the series. He also scored the first run of the game after leading off the first with a triple and would finish the day 2-for-5 at the plate.
After TCU scored a run in the top of the fifth, Aaron Brown (Chatsworth, Calif./Chatsworth HS) answered with a solo-homer to left field to keep the Waves ahead by two, 4-2. Brown also had a big day at the plate, going 2-for-4 with two RBI's. He finishes the season with 13 home runs and a 13-1 record on the mound.
The Horned Frogs rallied for a pair of runs in the sixth to even the game at 4-4, getting the game-tying double from Kevin Cron. It was again Brown's turn to shine in the eighth, when he put the Waves back up with a double off the wall in centerfield.
TCU found its final rally in the ninth, though, putting two runners on to lead off the inning and then getting a double from Dylan Fitzgerald to score a run and tie it at 5-5. Kyle Bacak laid down the game-winning squeeze bunt to score the run from third. The Waves got the leadoff runner on in the ninth, as Jack Ross (Gilroy, Calif./Palma HS) worked a walk, and then advanced him to third with two outs. TCU closer Riley Ferrell got a strikeout to strand Ross there and end the game.
"We were in a good spot to win, they just made the plays at the end," said Rodriguez. "This was a very hard fought and evenly matched series, but I think the better team won today. They are a national-seed for a reason. It was a great series to the end."
Through three games at the Super Regional, the teams were separated by one run in each contest. TCU took a 3-2 victory in the opener, before the Waves bounced back yesterday for a 3-2 win of their own. The largest lead of the series, a 3-0 advantage for TCU in the opening game, lasted just one inning.
"I have to congratulate Pepperdine on an unbelievable season," said TCU Head Coach Jim Schlossnagle, who is in his 11th season. "I can't imagine a more balanced Super Regional and two very similar teams. The way they competed and their energy in their dugout, it felt like I was looking in a mirror. It's an honor to be on the same field with those guys and Coach Rodriguez."
TCU totaled 13 hits in the game and the Waves had nine in the back and forth contest. Keaton Jones went 3-for-5 for the Horned Frogs and Bacak and Cron each drove in a pair of runs.
Brown and Caruso each had four hits through three games in Fort Worth, with Caruso driving in a team-high four runs. The freshman outfielder had a home run, triple, double and single in the series. Chris Fornaci (Walnut Creek, Calif./De La Salle HS) joined Caruso and Brown as one of three Waves to hit a homer in the series, getting a two-run shot in the first game as he went 3-for-7 against TCU. The Waves hit three homers off the top pitching staff in the Big 12, which had surrendered just 14 homers through 60 games prior to that.
Pepperdine posted its 14th 40-win season this year and made its 28th NCAA Tournament appearance just a year after finishing fifth in the WCC.