June 11, 2010

By Matt Rybaltowski
Special to NCAA.com

AUSTIN, Texas - Though TCU freshman left-hander Matt Purke took the mound for the first time in an NCAA Division I baseball Super Regional on Friday against Texas, he has performed in more hostile environments before.

In 2006, Purke helped lead the Under-16 USA National team to a gold medal in the COPABE Youth Pan-American Championships in Venezuela. Two years later, Purke baffled Mexico hitters in an 11-strikeout shutout at the Junior World Championships in Canada.

That experience was vital, as Purke again finished with 11 strikeouts and cruised in a 3-1 opening game victory over No. 2-seeded Texas in the first game of a best-of-three series.

"My first international experience I threw against Cuba down in Venezuela (and) those countries don't like us very much," said Purke, who improved to 14-0. "That situation was loud and crazy just like it was today. It's really helped me to just block everything out and focus on the game. That came up huge today."

Purke fired up his teammates by striking out the side in the bottom of the first and hopped to the dugout with a confident stride. The Louisville Slugger Freshman Pitcher of the Year retired the first eight Texas batters and had five strikeouts before the Longhorns had their first hit.

Though he sailed through the first six innings without allowing a run, Purke made a habit of striking out Longhorns hitters by battling from behind. He reached 0-2 or 1-2 in the count on just four of the first 20 batters and managed to keep Texas off the bases in critical situations.

In the fifth as TCU clung to a 1-0 lead, Purke allowed the count to go 2-0 on Russell Moldenhauer and 3-0 on Kevin Lusson before striking out both. With a man on and Texas center fielder Connor Rowe representing the tying run in the bottom of the eighth, Purke opened with two straight balls before Rowe struck out on a low fastball outside.

"I just took a deep breath, stepped back and focused on getting those strikes," Purke said. Entering the series, both Texas coach Augie Garrido and TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle felt the team that could capitalize in small ball situations would likely advance.

The Horned Frogs scored two runs by advancing runners to third with less than two outs on bunts twice and scoring on sacrifices by Aaron Schultz and Joe Weik. TCU scored its other run when Texas pitcher Cole Green attempted to walk Horned Frogs first baseman Matt Curry, but his pitch made it past catcher Cameron Rupp.

"We were trying to walk (Curry) and (Green) stumbled when he took his stride forward," Garrido said. "His front cleat caught and threw him off-balance."

In his only brief loss of focus of the afternoon, Purke hit Texas left fielder Cohl Walla to put two runners on in the eighth. Instead of leaving the left-hander to face Longhorns right-handed shortstop Brandon Loy, Schlossnagle opted to bring in right-handed relief pitcher Tyler Lockwood. The senior forced Loy into a grounder and then retired the side in the ninth for the upset victory.

"I thought (Matt's) pitch of the day was a 2-1 breaking ball to Connor Rowe for a strike," Schlossnagle said. "I was going to give him a chance to pitch to Cohl, but once Loy was up that's why Lockwood's on our team. Lock's a good sinkerballler and normally it's hard to elevate the ball against him. "

Pitching will also be the key in Saturday's Game 2 of the best-of-three series. Texas will start Taylor Jungmann, who leads the team in strikeouts (120), against Steven Maxwell, who leads TCU in ERA (2.51). The game will be televised live on ESPN at 1 p.m. (EDT).