OMAHA, Neb. – The sinking fastball. The baffling changeup. The nibbling, unpredictable slider.
TCU starting pitcher Preston Morrison had LSU hitters guessing in the Horned Frogs’ 10-3 win over the Tigers at the College World Series on Sunday afternoon.
“He had us everywhere,” first baseman Chris Chinea said.
LSU (53-11) mustered just five hits off Morrison, failing in the clutch of host of times. The senior righty used an array of pitches to stymie a Tigers lineup that led the Southeastern Conference in batting average, and a trio of plays sent the offense spiraling.
Chinea struck out and popped out with a man on third base in the second and fourth innings – two inning-ending at-bats by a guy who leads the team in two-out RBIs. Second baseman Jared Foster, trying to score from second base on Jake Fraley’s liner to short center field, was thrown out at the plate to end the third inning.
“We could have built some momentum right there, a couple of things would have went our way,” Foster said in a somber locker room afterward, hunched over in his locker while quietly answering questions. “Bottom line: we didn’t play well enough today. We’ve got to bounce back from it.”
The Tigers failed to bring in a potential three runs – a knife in the side for a team that never really got going again in Morrison’s seven innings.
“It sucks, but it’s baseball,” Fraley said. “It happens. It just wasn’t our day in all aspects of it – pitching, hitting, fielding, base-running. Everything.”
The play at the plate seemed to thrust momentum to the Horned Frogs, 50-13 and the Big 12 regular season champs. They got a clutch play from center fielder Cody Jones. He fired Fraley’s sinking liner to catcher Evan Skoug.
Skoug stood in front of the plate, capturing the ball at the same time as he closed his legs to block the dish. The ball, he said afterward, careened off his glove and “nicked” off Foster. Foster never touched home.
“When he hit the ball, wasn’t too sure we were going to have a play,” Skoug said. “I had the plate blocked but didn’t catch it clean. It nicked off him and then I caught it with my bare hand.”
Morrison, who entered with a 2.55 ERA and now is 12-3, never allowed more of a threat after the fourth. He retired his final 12 batters, confusing the Tigers. Conner Hale, Mark Laird, Chris Sciambra and Chinea went hitless in the game.
Those three players entered Sunday having batting averages over .300.
“He’s a good pitcher,” Foster said. “He sunk the ball well. He hit his spots. Located well and kept the ball down.”
Morrison added more woes for an offense that coasted through the regular season. They’ve hit a snag.
LSU has scored three or fewer runs in four of the last seven games. The Tigers had scored three or fewer runs in just eight games of the first 57 this season.
Morrison was the last of a stretch of pitchers who’s quieted LSU’s previously loud bats.
“He was pounding the zone, mixing in all three pitches,” Chinea said. “He’s a good pitcher, been proving it in his league for a while. We didn’t come through in certain at-bats.”
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter @DellengerAdv.