The opening day of the Big 12 tournament was all smiles and sunshine. Sure, teams won and lost, sometimes in heartbreaking fashion. But no one's tournament dreams ended, and everyone went home knowing there was still a chance they're crowned champion Sunday.
|TCU vs. Texas Tech||10 a.m.||Fox Sports Southwest|
|West Virginia vs. Oklahoma||1:30 p.m.||Fox Sports Southwest|
|Texas vs. Baylor||5 p.m.||Fox Sports Southwest|
|Kansas State vs. Oklahoma State||8:30 p.m.||Fox Sports Southwest|
Unfortunately, Thursday marks the beginning of the bad news. Mostly for the conference's best teams.
Two teams are headed to the elimination chamber by early afternoon. TCU and Texas Tech get things underway bright and early, while West Virginia and Oklahoma will battle for their tournament lives at the conclusion of that matchup.
Both TCU and Texas Tech come into Thursday having come one run short of making noise in the winner's bracket. The Horned Frogs were totally shocked in their 6-5 loss to eighth-seeded Baylor. The top seed in the Big 12 and considered by far the conference's top team—their 43-10 record was seven games better than any other team—TCU put itself in jeopardy of hurting it's NCAA seed with the loss.
The Bears scored runs in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings to earn the comeback win. Adam Toth hit a sacrifice fly in the top of the ninth for the game-winning run.
"I'd put my money on [relievers] Trey Teakell and Riley Ferrell any time," TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle said, per Wendell Barnhouse of the Big 12's official website. "I'd rather it happen now than next weekend (NCAA regional). Baylor competed. This is a good conference and if you don't play well, you're going to get beat. I hate having to learn a lesson; we'd rather win."
Texas Tech's 2-1 loss to Texas was also an upset on paper, albeit one of far less pomp and circumstance. Texas starter Parker French sprayed eight hits and struck out six during his nine innings of work, overshadowing 6.1 innings of strong work from Cameron Smith. The Red Raiders starter struck out eight and only one of his two runs were earned.
The Longhorns' two runs were largely the result of Texas Tech mistakes in the field.
"We make a routine play and it's a one-to-one game," Texas Tech coach Tim Tadlock said, per Barnhouse. The difference in the game was hitting in scoring position; they got a couple of knocks when they needed and we didn't."
TCU took two out of three from Texas Tech last month. Unfortunately for the Raiders, Smith was the starter in the lone game they were able to take.
Kansas State added the day's third upset with a 7-3 win over Oklahoma. Center fielder Max Brown had four hits and starter Colton Kalmus threw 5.1 solid innings in the win. The Wildcats opened a 5-0 lead through the first three innings and largely coasted the rest of the way, thanks in large part to Oklahoma's inability to capitalize on base hits.
"K-State came out and set the tempo," Oklahoma coach Pete Hughes said, per Barnhouse. "And we didn't play clean baseball."
Oklahoma will go head-to-head with West Virginia, which was the only lower seed not to win Wednesday. Conor Costello and Trey Cobb combined to shut the Mountaineers out in the 3-0 win. Cobb did not allow a hit over his five innings of work. Donnie Walton drove in two runs for the Cowboys, who are looking like a threat for the conference title all of a sudden.
West Virginia's offense was completely shut down over the final five innings, but it had a number of chances in Costello's four innings of work. They just could never come through with runners in scoring position.
"We lost the game in the first four innings," West Virginia coach Randy Mazey said, per Barnhouse. "If we had touched home as much as we touched third we would have won."
Oklahoma State will hope to get an equally impressive pitching performance when it takes on Kansas State in the second round's nightcap. The Cowboys took two out of three during their regular-season series against the Wildcats. They had an 18-8 runs advantage overall, but this is a far different K-State outfit.
If Tuesday's performance is any indication, Kansas State may have turned a corner in taking two of three from rival Kansas to close the regular season.
|TCU vs. Texas Tech||7-1, TCU|
|West Virginia vs. Oklahoma||5-4, Oklahoma|
|Texas vs. Baylor||6-4, Texas|
|Kansas State vs. Oklahoma State||8-4, Oklahoma State|
Texas and Baylor will each be playing with house money when they go head-to-head in the other winner's bracket matchup. The teams are well-acquainted with one another. They closed the regular season with a three-game series last weekend, including a Sunday doubleheader. Texas took two of those three games, but the separation was minimal. The teams split blowout wins on Sunday and had a close 6-5 battle in the series opener.
“Anything can happen in baseball, that's why you play the season you play because any team can win on any given day,” Baylor coach Steve Smith said, per Nicholas Talbot of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. “That's why a team like us can win this tournament, Anything can happen. I thought the way our guys competed in spite of poor play.”
The opening day proved Smith's theory correct. Anything really can happen. It'll be captivating to see what the next four games have in store Thursday.