NORMAN – Trailing by two with two gone in the ninth and the tying runs on base, No. 24 University of Oklahoma baseball's senior catcher Renae Martinez (San Pedro, Calif.) lifted the Sooners to a 9-8, walk-off win of No. 5 TCU with a three-run home run to left in front of 1,607 at L. Dale Mitchell Park on Saturday afternoon. The win propelled OU to 33-18 overall and 11-9 in the Big 12, while the Horned Frogs' shot at an outright league title was delayed another day as they dropped to 36-12 and 16-7.
“When you work as hard as that kid does, you lay a foundation where when you come out here it's easy,” head coach Pete Hughes said of Martinez. “All your work is done; whatever happens happens. I try to tell our guys to get to that point in your craft and half our dugout is there. That kid, he's the leader in that [dugout] and our seniors are too. JB is the same way; Stoney is the same way. The amount of work those guys put in. Rene was back here December 26th so he could do that without being nervous. The moment doesn't swallow him up; he just tries to execute.”
The Sooners trailed 4-0 after three and were held scoreless through the first five innings. Oklahoma staged a late surge by scoring in every inning after the fifth, by TCU appeared to have an answer at every turn.
OU put three runs on the board in the sixth by taking advantage of a pop-fly double, hit by Martinez, that could not be corralled on a slide and a RBI-single from sophomore center fielder Steele Walker (Prosper, Texas) that turned into a two-run play after an error in right.
TCU got all three runs back in the next half inning to take a 7-3 lead at the stretch. The Frogs had two runners in scoring position and one down, which forced the Sooner infield to play in. A groundball hit to first was thrown home, but errant and allowed TCU to score and opened the door for a three-run innings.
Oklahoma used the long ball to chip away in the seventh and eighth innings. Sophomore Domenic DeRenzo (Pittsburgh, Pa.), who entered as a pinch-hitter and stayed on to play left, hit a two-run home run past the left field foul pole to make it a 7-5 game. An inning later, sophomore designated hitter Brylie Ware (Sedgwick, Kan.) cut the deficit to one with a solo shot down the left field line.
“It's really tough not to get frustrated as a coach when your guys fight against a really good team and you're within striking distance and then when they pull away, that's what good teams do,” Hughes said of his team's ability to battle. “But good teams also never give up and they keep grinding, they keep getting to the next guy.”
In the top of the ninth, a two-out, ground-rule double by left fielder Josh Watson gave the Horned Frogs an insurance run. The bounce over the wall was a fortunate one for the Sooners as it prevented a second run from coming in and making it a three-run game.
Junior second baseman Kyle Mendenhall (Carlsbad, Calif.) was able to bring the tying run to the plate in the ninth as he reached on a one-out single to third and was safe with a head first slide under the tag due to a high throw. Senior Jack Flansburg (Orange, Calif.), who started at third and moved to short, kept the game alive with a two-out single into shallow right-center. Redshirt-freshman Kyler Murray (Allen, Texas) replaced Flansburg as a pinch-runner and promptly stole second to put the tying runs into scoring position and set up Martinez' game-winner.
Martinez was 2-for-5 in the game with four RBI and two runs scored. Mendenhall added a 2-for-4, two-run day. TCU catcher Evan Skoug finished 3-for-5 with three runs, two RBI and a solo home run, which came in the first inning.
Junior right-hander Devon Perez (Ashburn, Va.) lasted 5.1 innings in the start and allowed three of his four runs in the third inning. He struck out seven and walked one, while giving up seven hits. Senior RHP JB Olson (Shady Shores, Texas) was the fifth Sooner reliever of the day. Olson (4-1) bounced back after taking the loss on Friday night to get the only out he needed in the top of the ninth to strand two runners in scoring position with a strikeout.
Right-hander Brian Howard was brilliant for the Horned Frogs through the first four innings. He was perfect before surrendering a double to OU senior first baseman Austin O'Brien (Owasso, Okla.) with one gone in the fifth. Through his first 18 batters faced, Howard threw just 17 pitches for balls. He lasted 6.1 innings and ave up five runs, four of which were earned, on seven hits and two walks with four strikeouts. Right-hander Durbin Feltman (2-2) took the loss in two-thirds of an inning with three runs on three hits.
The series rubber-match is set for 1 p.m. on Sunday afternoon. Oklahoma turns to sophomore righty Kyle Tyler (Oklahoma City) on the mound.