Jordan Bowersox smacked face-first into the center field wall with a “clunk” audible to those wincing in the press box over 400 feet away.
The ball, clobbered out there by Texas Christian’s Dane Steinhagen, ricocheted off the wood and dribbled into the grass as Bowersox staggered to retrieve it and Casey Wanhanen scored, a go-ahead in run in the top of the second inning of Saturday’s second game.
The No. 10 Horned Frogs hardly looked back as both games of Saturday’s doubleheader became the macro-metaphor for Bowersox’s would-be play: There was a lot of effort involved, but it just wasn’t enough to beat the Big 12 powerhouse.
Penn State fell to TCU 6-2 and 5-4 on Saturday to open a series against the highest-ranked non-conference opponent to ever play at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.
“Obviously I’m disappointed,” said head coach Rob Cooper, adding that he didn’t believe in moral victories, but he “had to tip his hat to these kids, they battled against a good team.”
Capitalizing with runners on base plagued Penn State from start to finish, as the Nittany Lions left eight runners stranded in the first game and 13 in the second — including a loaded set with two outs and the Horned Frogs up 5-4 in the bottom of the ninth.
Conlin Hughes lined to right field, a wobbly hit that looked like it would drop short and even gave TCU’s right fielder pause enough to stutter-step into position before he caught it to end the game.
“He put a good swing on it,” said Cooper, shaking his head. “One thing about Medlar, it just really seems like balls seem to hang up extra long. It got a good hang-up and then really started to dive and then the guy paused for a second and I thought, ‘Maybe this is gonna get in there.’”
Penn State struck first in the second game, as Tyler Kendall singled up the gap in the bottom of the first inning to score Nick Riotto from second base. Bowersox reached later in the frame on a fielder’s choice, which sent in outfielder Greg Guers to put the Nittany Lions up 2-0.
TCU’s 6-foot-4, 265-pound freshman (and 2015 National Gatorade Player of the Year alongside the 37th overall pick in last year’s draft) Luken Baker ripped a double to center and scored on the next at-bat when left fielder Josh Watson homered to right field.
The Horned Frogs notched another run in the seventh inning, but Penn State drew even in the bottom half with an RBI single by Guers and a throwing error on an attempted double play that allowed Jim Haley to score.
Penn State closer Jack Anderson came in after a wild pitch sent a runner to second for his 93rd career save attempt.
TCU rallied back after Baker singled to right field and Evan Skoug slid into a narrow score from second base for the ultimate winning run.
In the first of the two games, starting pitcher Taylor Lehman struggled on the mound, ceding six runs on eight hits in just 3 2/3 innings to take the loss, his ninth of the season.
Junior right-hander Tom Mullin replaced Lehman and dealt, giving up just two hits and no runs in 5 1/3 innings.
“I’m really proud of him,” said Cooper. “He hasn’t gotten to pitch a lot but he took advantage of his opportunity and did it right.”
But the damage was done, as the Horned Frogs held their early six-run lead.
Haley hit a two-out single that plated Bowersox in the eighth inning to help his team avoid the shutout.
Ryan Sloniger hit a two-out bloop single over the head of TCU’s second baseman to send in Kendall in the bottom of the ninth.
Penn State (26-22) hosts the Horned Frogs (32-12) once more at 1 p.m. on Sunday to close out the series.