Instant Classic – “Rally Turtle Sends Frogs Into Frenzy”

June 24, 2010
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In a year that signifies the end of Rosenblatt Stadium, the TCU Horned Frogs may have saved the grand ole stadium’s best moment for the end.

With the bases loaded, facing perhaps his last collegiate at-bat, TCU first baseman Matt Curry jumped on a 2-out, full-count Mike McGee slider that found too much of the plate – driving the ball out of the park for a grand-slam home run that sent the pro-TCU Rosenblatt faithful into a frenzy.

The biggest home run of Matt Curry’s career – a grand slam gamewinner in Omaha.

All year long, the TCU dugout has nurtured the “rally turtle.”

After drawing it in the dirt next to the on-deck circle, they feed it, water it, caress it … anything to provide that dramatic spark in energizing the dugout. This time, the purple-clad Frogs were down to their last six outs, facing a four-run deficit at 7-3 entering the top of the 8th inning.

No one on the TCU squad wanted to go home and think about next year, for this team is relentless, tireless, fearless and full of moxie.

This was such a dramatic ending – given everything at stake with the history of Rosenblatt Stadium and the way the local people of Omaha have embraced this tournament for over 60 years – that it deserves a full recap.

Fear The Frogs … UCLA vs. TCU should be an epic battle.

Going into the 8th, national coach of the year Jim Schlossnagle decided to move Kyle Von Tungeln to the DH position. Six-hole hitter Jantzen Witte reached on a fielding error by third baseman Sherman Johnson to start off the inning. Johnson’s miscue, one of five FSU errors in the game, would have dire consequences as the story unfolded.

A pitch later, Witte was standing on second base due to a passed ball. On a 2-1 breaking ball, TCU shortstop Taylor Featherston singled up the middle past a diving second baseman Devon Travis, sending Witte to third. The dugout was energized and the rally turtle was in play. Sometimes the little sparks start such a big fire.

Centerfielder Aaron Schultz then hit a lazy pop fly to center field and Witte faked an attempt at home, but his decision to stay at third was a wise one as the ball one-hopped FSU catcher Rafael Lopez (Witte would have been out, if he decided to test the arm of the FSU centerfielder Tyler Holt).

McGee came in to face #9 hitter Brance Rivera, after FSU pitcher Geoff Parker reportedly felt a pop in his elbow. Rivera hit the next pitch to FSU shortstop Stephen Cardullo, scoring Witte but forcing out Featherston on the fielder’s choice.

TCU was down to its last five outs, facing a 7-4 deficit. My wife sent me a text stating I think we have a ballgame…let’s go frogs (always rooting for the underdogs). I sent her a text … “They need to cut this lead in half if they have a chance to win.”

TCU did more than cut the lead in half, they put FSU behind by four at 11-7 by the end of the inning … but we will get to that in a moment.

Leadoff hitter Jerome Pena walked on four pitches and then Bryan Holaday doubled down the rightfield line, scoring Rivera and advancing Pena to third.

Umpire Gus Rodriguez gave the close play at second base a long look before ruling Holaday safe.  That may have turned out to be the play of the year for the Frogs, as Holaday credited his coaching staff for teaching and reinforcing the small things that lead to the discipline it takes to execute in crunchtime situations.

Coats worked a tremendous at-bat to a full-count and then walked, loading the bases and setting the stage for not only the greatest at-bat in TCU history but an at-bat that certainly ranks among thegreatest in the history of Rosenblatt Stadium.

If it isn’t the best, it definitely will add to the lore of the place.

Curry narrowly missed a first-pitch breaking ball, worked the count to 3-2 and then blasted the fateful slider out of the stadium to dead center-field. As soon as he hit the ball, Currey immediately turned to the first-base TCU dugout and held both arms out to his teammates – as he knew he just hit the biggest home run of his life.

The only problem was that when he turned to watch the ball, he saw Holt standing at the fence as if he was going to catch the ball, hoping the ball would hit the top of the fence and stay in the yard with the fake holding the runners from scoring.

Rosenblatt had other plans … the stadium was ready to go into an absolute frenzy one more time.  Schlossnagle sprinted to the bullpen phone, not even watching the ball leave the park, trying to get closer Kaleb Merck up to be ready to seal the deal (as the rally turtle somehow had helped put the Frogs in the lead for good at 9-7).

The dugout exploded onto the field and the stadium started rocking. Stunned, I realized I had filmed the whole thing in HD, not really realizing I caught one of the greatest moment in the history of the stadium.

Josh Elander then was inserted to hit for Von Tungeln and he promptly singled to center field.  Witte, batting for the second time in the inning, hit another monster shot to left and the Seminole dugout was reeling, down 11-7 after entering the inning with a four-run lead and six outs from victory. Featherston popped out to shorstop, ending perhaps the greatest comeback in the TCU program’s history.

Florida State head coach Mike Martin gave credit to a gutty effort by TCU, rather than giving excuses and explanations. “I felt like we were going to get out of the inning … we just didn’t,” said Martin.

Martin thanked his team for taking him to Omaha: “We were up and down all year. I’ve had a lot of ballclubs that were special, but this one really was. It was a year that was special because it is dawgone hard to get out here. To all of you, thank you, you are the ones that make this game special.”

TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle was all smiles after the dramatic comeback win.

TCU Coach Jim Schlossnagle:

“So many great things happened in that inning that we pride ourselves on. Rivera beating out the double play to keep us in the inning, the slide at second base on the double, Coats laying off the 3-2 breaking ball in the dirt to get Curry up to do his work.

“No disrespect to the other teams, but UCLA and Oklahoma are the two most complete teams we have played this year. The great thing about baseball is the best team doesn’t always win, the team who plays the best does.”

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