OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Brian Howard matched his career high with 12 strikeouts in seven-plus innings, Omaha native Ryan Merrill homered to start a three-run third and TCU beat Texas A&M 4-1 in a College World Series elimination game on Tuesday.
The Horned Frogs (48-16) avoided going 0-2 for the first time in five all-time CWS appearances. The Aggies (41-23) have gone two-games-and-out in their last three appearances and have lost eight in a row in Omaha.
TCU will play again Thursday against the loser of Tuesday night’s Louisville-Florida game. Texas A&M’s season ends after its 11th straight NCAA Tournament appearance.
Howard (12-3), the Oakland Athletics’ eighth-round draft pick, flummoxed the Aggies with pinpoint location of his fastball and cutter. He struck out six of the first seven batters he faced and held the Aggies scoreless until Braden Shewmake’s RBI groundout in the sixth inning.
Texas A&M starter Stephen Kolek (4-5) was knocked out in 2 2/3 innings, matching his shortest start of the season. Kaylor Chafin held the Frogs to three singles the rest of the way.
Howard left after George Janca doubled leading off the eighth. Sean Wymer came on and retired six straight to end the game and earn his second save.
Merrill graduated from Millard West High School in Omaha and passed on a chance to walk on at Nebraska, opting instead to play two years at nearby Iowa Western Community College. He went to TCU last year and became the starting shortstop, batting .300 with a .462 on-base percentage at last year’s CWS and making the all-tournament team.
The St. Louis Cardinals drafted him in the 15th round, but he returned to school with the hope he could play in the CWS again. He struggled at the plate this season, but the Frogs made it back to Omaha, and he went 1 for 3 in their 3-0 loss to Florida on Sunday.
In his first at-bat Tuesday he drilled Kolek’s 1-2 pitch off the back wall in the right-field bullpen for his sixth homer of the season and seventh of his TCU career. Evan Skoug doubled in a run and Elliott Barzilli had an RBI single to make it 4-0.
Since the Big 12 Tournament, Howard is 4-0 with a 1.20 ERA and 38 strikeouts in 30 innings. He struck out 12 for the second time in four starts.
The game matched teams located 175 miles apart and rivals since their days in the old Southwest Conference. TCU won three-game super regionals against the Aggies in 2015 and ’16, and beat them 11-10 in 15 innings in their regular-season meeting. The Aggies still lead the all-time series 162-94-4.
This is the third straight year TCU has eliminated the Aggies from the NCAA Tournament. It’s the eighth time one team has eliminated the same team in three consecutive seasons in any round of the tournament.
IT’S ABOUT THE K’S
TCU, with 14 strikeouts on Tuesday, has had 10 or more in 28 games this season. The Frogs had 40 strikeouts in 24 innings against the Aggies this season.