Everything is bigger in Texas, but TCU's soldout Lupton Stadium wasn't big enough to contain NC State's Chance Shepard, who took Frogs' all-American closer Riley Ferrell deep with two outs in the top of the ninth. The two-run shot put the Pack up 5-4 and Travis Orwig, who was impressive in relief, worked around a leadoff double in the bottom of the inning to preserve the lead.
The Pack will face the winner of Sunday afternoon's Stony Brook-TCU elimination game for the right to advance to the super regionals. Whichever team wins the elimination game will have to beat State twice, as the Pack is perfect so far in the regional.
Shepard's homer was just the ninth hit allowed all year by Ferrell in 28 innings and came after Ryne Willard walked after Ferrell blew away the first two hitters of the inning. It was a wild turn of events in a wild game that must have featured Elliot Avent coming out of the dugout half a dozen times to argue with umpires and even opposing coaches.
Avent's flair for the pinch runner left the Pack with an odd defensive alignment for the bottom of the ninth. Normal closer Tommy DeJuneas, who has played some outfield, ended up running for Willard after his two-out walk. He became the Pack's fifth (FIFTH!) leftfielder of the game, and DeJuneas is 1-for-3 in stolen base attempts while Willard is 3-for-4. But whatever. With Willard down, Evan Mendoza, who had one appearance at second base all season and has normally been a pitcher, had to play second base. He threw away an easy 6-4-3 double play turn that would have ended the game, but Orwig got Garrett Crain looking on a backdoor slider one batter later to propel the Pack to the regional final.
The final frame started off ominously for Orwig, who gave up a fly ball down the left field line that DeJuneas dove for but came up short, allowing Nolan Brown to reach with a leadoff double. But Keaton Jones followed with a horribly executed hard bunt right back at Orwig, who nailed Jones for the first out of the inning. Orwig allowed just the double in 2.2 innings of relief to earn his second win of the season.
Willard's bases-loaded double scored a pair in the fourth. Joe Dunand, who was stellar defensively at third, put the Pack up 3-1 when he scored on a wild pitch following the two-bagger.
Crain, who entered the game homerless, was both hero and goat for the Frogs. He was gifted an inside-the-park homerun by the scorekeeper on a ball Brock Deatherage played from a single to a round-tripper. Crain's "homer" gave TCU a brief 1-0 lead. Crain, who had one triple entering the game, had a three-bagger to lead off the sixth that led to the Frogs knotting the game at 3-3. But Crain was megged by what looked to be a sure double play ball in the fourth, leading to State's big inning, and of course he also made the game's final out with the bat on his shoulder.
Crain's sacrifice fly in the seventh put the Frogs up 4-3, and it appeared it would be enough to hand Preston Morrison his first career NCAA tournament win. TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle calls Morrison, a senior, the best pitcher in program history, but he had to settle for a no decision in what could be his last appearance. Morrison tied the Pack in knots with an arsenal of off speed pitches, working eight innings, allowing just four hits, and striking out 10. Brian Brown's peripherals were great for the Pack; he didn't walk anybody and struck out eight in 6.1 innings, but his five hits allowed led to four earned runs thanks to Deatherage's gaff, a Jeremie Fagnan solo homer, and Crain's triple.
And now, your moment of zen:
THIS just happened! Chance Shepard puts NC State in front in the 9th! #RoadToOmaha http://t.co/6sbZaIiZVf— NCAA Baseball (@NCAACWS) May 31, 2015