There is no substitute for becoming acclimated to the college baseball postseason. The only way to become comfortable with the unique ebb and flow of the playoffs is to have been there before.
Entering Friday, TCU boasted a conglomerate of players who were plenty familiar with the song and dance of regionals. Cal, however, was filled to the brim with players who were making their postseason debuts.
That disparity played out in the worst way possible for the Bears, who were welcomed to the playoffs with a 13-2 walloping at the hands of the Horned Frogs.
“Not much to say. We didn’t play very well,” said Cal head coach Mike Neu. “I think that’s not indicative of how we play. Unfortunately, that’s how we played, and not a great all-around game for us. You have to move on, and it’s kind of where we are right now.”
It was a brutally ugly display of baseball for Cal, and nowhere did that show up more than on the defensive side of the operation. Whether directly or indirectly, every single error the Bears allowed led to a run.
Catcher Korey Lee threw the ball into left field trying to throw out Hunter Wolfe’s attempted steal of third, allowing Wolfe to cruise on home and giving TCU an early 1-0 lead. Along with the throwing error, Lee was also dinged for three passed balls, two of which led to additional runs in the ninth.
Third baseman Quentin Selma couldn’t knock down a sharp ground ball off the bat of Johnny Rizer, allowing Jake Guenther to score and upping the Horn Frogs’ lead to 2-0.
Pitcher Jared Horn threw the ball away on a sacrifice bunt by Adam Oviedo, sparking what would become a six-run sixth inning for TCU that ultimately blew the game wide open.
“We stepped on our own feet a little bit defensively, and that’s what put us in a hole,” Neu said. “I think if we play a little cleaner game, it’s tighter, and we have more meaningful at-bats later in the game.”
That throwing error was the epitome of Horn’s worst start of the season, an outing in which he struggled to consistently find command of the strike zone.
Against a group of crafty, patient Horned Frogs who knew how to work counts, Horn only managed to go five innings, his shortest outing since a four-inning stint against Oregon State nearly two months ago. The three earned runs that Horn allowed matches a season high as well.
TCU’s hitters got a lot of pitches out of Horn early and often. By the end of the second inning, Horn was already at 53 pitches. By the end of fifth, he was at 104.
Despite the already high pitch count, Neu elected to keep Horn in the ballgame for the sixth, but a single compounded by the aforementioned throwing error knocked the All-Pac-12 hurler out of the game.
The Bears’ relief crew couldn’t minimize the damage in that decisive sixth inning. Rogelio Reyes faced three batters, allowing a walk, a two-run double and a sacrifice fly before being yanked.
Jack Delmore fared no better, allowing an RBI single and a two-run home run from the first two batters he faced. By the end of the frame, TCU led, 9-1, and had a complete stranglehold on the ballgame, ultimately cruising the rest of the way stress-free.