TCU starting pitcher Preston Morrison came into Friday's matchup at Arizona State with plenty of gaudy stats and accolades behind his name. He was named the Big 12 Pitcher of the Year in 2014, posting a 1.32 ERA in 18 starts with 95 strikeouts and 21 walks.
This season, Morrison was already 2-0 with 16 innings pitched and batters hitting a measly .118 against him. The right-hander lived up to the hype, throwing nine innings of shutout baseball while giving up just three hits, one walk and striking out five against a befuddled Sun Devil lineup. TCU manufactured three runs on the night, all they would need on their way to a shutout victory.
The only mistake the ace really made came early on, when he hung a 1-1 pitch to the dangerous Jordan Aboites, who ripped the ball into the right field corner and would end up motoring all the way to third. Morrison would work his way out of the jam, however, getting Jake Peevyhouse to go down on strikes and Christopher Beall on a weak grounder to third.
"We weren't able to move the ball, and that's one of those situations that sets the tone for the rest of the game," head coach Tracy Smith said.
The Horned Frog hitters took advantage of the momentum they produced on defense and scored a pair of runs in their half of the second inning. Cleanup hitter Evan Skoug got the rally started with a double to open the inning, and he moved to third on a sacrifice bunt. The next batter hit a sharp liner towards Dalton Dinatale at third, who tried to cut down Skoug at the plate. The ball got away from ASU catcher Brian Serven, giving TCU a 1-0 lead. Turns out that was all they would need.
The visitors were not quite finished as Nolan Brown, who reached on the throw to the plate, stole second and then scored on a single back up the middle by Keaton Jones. Sun Devil starter Brett Lilek eventually got out of the inning without any further damage, but the two run deficit felt like much more with the way Morrison was dealing.
Lilek's finest moment of the night came in the fifth inning after allowing a one out triple to Dane Steinhagen. The junior southpaw served up a perfect ground ball to the hole at second, and this time, the maroon and gold executed properly. Aboites' throw to the plate was perfect and Steinhagen was out by a couple of steps.
Some drama arose in the bottom of the seventh as ASU desperately tried to get something going. With two outs and nobody on, it appeared that Trever Allen had been hit by a pitch from Morrison. The home plate umpire ruled that Allen did not make an attempt to dodge the pitch, sending him back into the box and most everyone at Phoenix Municipal Stadium into a frenzy. Naturally, Allen struck out on the next pitch.
"To me, (that rule) leaves a lot up to interpretation," Smith said. "When the pitch is thrown in the right-handed batters box and the umpire says he didn't jump out of the way, I think that's a broad, broad interpretation."
The Horned Frogs picked up an insurance run in the following inning on another defensive mistake. With one out and runners at the corners, it was again Skoug that caused havoc on the basepaths. He drew a throw down to second on a steal, and Connor Wanhanen broke for the plate after the ball left the catcher's hands. The throw back home was late, and just like that TCU stuck the dagger into the Sun Devils.
The maroon and gold went down in order in the eighth, and all they could muster in the bottom of the ninth was a two out single from Peevyhouse. The loss dropped their record to 3-2 on the year while the Horned Frogs improved to a perfect 5-0.
The two teams will be back at it tomorrow for a 1:00 p.m. first pitch. Left-hander Ryan Kellogg is slated to start for ASU, while TCU will send Tyler Alexander to the mound.