OMAHA, Neb. –
Matt Purke had four million reasons to enter professional baseball last June.
He had one reason to attend college.
He’s waited all season for this, through 17 starts and a nation-leading 16 wins and zero losses, his chance to send the TCU Horned Frogs to the College World Series championship series.
TCU’s fabulous freshman shut down UCLA for 6 1/3 innings before giving way to the Horned Frogs’ bullpen, who closed out a 6-2 win in front of 22,334 at Omaha’s Rosenblatt Stadium on Friday afternoon.
The teams will meet again this afternoon at 11 a.m. to determine half of the championship series matchup, the winner advancing to meet either South Carolina or Clemson.
“This place is an adventure on its own; you never know what’s going to happen here,” said Purke, who spurned a $4 million signing bonus from the Texas Rangers as the No. 14 pick in the 2009 draft. “But it’s just the same ballpark. Just another day of baseball and you’ve got to attack it the same way. I was able to go out today a little different than what I’m used to throwing, but hey, I’ll take ground-ball outs all day.”
Purke bullied the Bruins early, retiring the first 11 UCLA batters before a fourth-inning walk to Blair Dunlap. TCU staked its star pitcher an early 3-0 lead, with Purke painting the corners, retiring nine of the first 11 batters by ground-out, the other two by strikeout.
“He threw a great game,” UCLA leadoff man Niko Gallego said. “He has his own rhythm, and he stuck to his rhythm and got a lot of ground balls. That’s his game.”
A bunt single by Chris Giovinazzo in the fifth inning broke up Purke’s no-hitter, and a Brett Krill RBI single two batters later gave the Bruins their first run, and they would close the gap to 3-2.
But UCLA relief pitcher Garett Claypool, who came in for struggling starter Rob Rasmussen, gave up two late home runs that provided insurance.
Rasmussen was shaky in his first start since putting the Bruins in the CWS with an 8-1 win over Cal State Fullerton in the Los Angeles Super Regional on June 14. Rasmussen allowed two singles and two walks in the first inning, including a free pass to Taylor Featherston that scored Bryan Holaday. The junior lefty allowed seven base runners through two innings as his pitch count shot through the roof, eventually giving way to Claypool with one out in the fifth, after allowing six hits, three walks and three ‘runs, while striking out six.
“Quite honestly, I just didn’t throw enough strikes,” Rasmussen said. “Obviously those two walks in the first inning hurt. Like Coach (John Savage) said, we were kind of swimming upstream.”
With two strikes in the count, Rasmussen struggled to finish the Frogs off. All three of his runs allowed came with two strikes, TCU battling to just extend its at-bats.
“I feel like every single one of at-bats were with two strikes in this whole tournament,” said Featherston, who had a full-count triple with the bases loaded in the seventh inning of Monday’s 6-3 UCLA win. “I’m kind of getting comfortable with it a little bit.”
The Bruins will have one more chance to close out the Frogs tomorrow, with Trevor Bauer pitching. The Hart of Santa Clarita product struck out 11 in UCLA’s first CWS matchup, an 11-3 win over Florida last Saturday.
TCU head coach Jim Schlossnagle was unsure of who he would start against the Bruins, after playing an extra game following a loss earlier in the bracket to UCLA and starter Gerrit Cole.
“We’re both against the wall because it’s an elimination game,” Schlossnagle said. “I don’t know who in the heck we’re going to pitch (today). … Don’t let Coach Savage fool you there, they’re pretty loaded down there.”