June 8, 2012

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Bruins Use Big Inning to Bounce Horned Frogs

By Abbey Mastracco



LOS ANGELES -- As the last out fell at Jackie Robinson Stadium Friday night, the score was brought to TCU head coach Jim Schlossnagle's attention. The Horned Frogs had just fallen to No. 2 national seed UCLA 6-2, but bullpen catcher Al Ralston reminded Schlossnagle that exactly one week ago, the Horned Frogs came out on the same end of another 6-2 contest against Ole Miss.


TCU then won four straight, eliminating the Rebels just five days ago in College Station, Texas.


The numbers were also not lost on UCLA head coach John Savage, whose Bruin squad came back from two early home runs to win with a big five-run sixth inning. The road to Omaha is a long grind, where one series opener can sometimes be meaningless.


Which is why neither Schlossnagle nor Savage is panicking just yet.


"There's no celebration; it's one game," Savage (left) said. "You can't take anything for granted."


In front of a packed crowd of 2,042, it looked as though two different ball games were played: One in which the Horned Frogs (40-21) came out swinging, and one in which they were effectively slugged by the Bruins (46-14).


TCU starter Brandon Finnegan (4-5) cruised through the first five innings, benefiting from two early solo home runs by Josh Elander and Kyle Von Tungeln. Finnegan, a freshman making just his second career postseason start, gave up just one earned run until running into trouble in the sixth.


"The reason we started Finnegan in the game tonight was that I thought he was the best available pitcher that had the best match-up against UCLA," Schlossnagle said. "But solo homers don't normally beat you."


The Horned Frogs nearly had a third solo shot in the top of the sixth, when Cody Keefer made an amazing leaping grab at the wall to rob Jerrick Suiter. The defense gave the Bruins the spark they needed to turn the game in their favor.


Still trailing 2-1 in the bottom of the frame, the Bruins got their first two men on when Tyler Heineman walked and Keefer was hit by a pitch. Finnegan was then replaced by Justin Scharf, who beaned Jeff Gelalich to load the bases with no outs. Trevor Brown then singled to the gap in right-center to even the game at 2-2.


After an RBI groundout by Pat Valaika (right) gave UCLA the lead, pinch-hitter Brenton Allen was intentionally walked to load the bases, setting the table for Cody Regis with only one out.


Regis, a .500 hitter with a .900 slugging percentage and a home run in three games against the Horned Frogs (all during the 2010 College World Series), delivered the key hit the Bruins were looking for and the Horned Frogs feared.


"Regis wore us out in Omaha and he got the big hit today," Schlossnagle said.


Regis drove Scharf's offering back to the wall in left-center, clearing the bases to give UCLA a 6-2 lead.


Plutko then took back over, retiring the Horned Frogs in order in the seventh. David Berg then took the ball in the eighth, striking out four of the six batters he faced.


"He has a lot of movement on his fastball," Von Tungeln said. "He throws it up at your upper thigh then it just drops off into the dirt."


"You just know what you're getting with Berg," Savage said. "That guy is just a rock."


Regis finished 1 for 4 with three RBI. Brown helped the Bruins, going 2 for 4 with an RBI and two runs.


Elander was the only Horned Frog with a multi-hit game, going 2 for 4 his 11th home run.


TCU will now attempt to regroup in the same manor it was forced to one week ago. While the position is not ideal, it's also not impossible.


"We feel that our club is a grinder, blue-collar type of team that plays well with our backs against the wall," Schlossnagle said. "We feel like we're right where we want to be."


(action photos by Don Liebig/UCLA)