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Purke’s pitching, late uprising lift Horned Frogs past Rebels

Up would go Matt Purke’s right leg, and up would go the many radar guns at Wilson Stadium, followed by lots of quick scribbling.

About 10 scouts were in the stands Saturday — a low number by Purke’s standards — to see one of baseball’s top three prospects, and the draft-eligible sophomore gave them a good reason to be there.

He overcame a rocky start to shut down the Rebels with 11 strikeouts and No. 9 Texas Christian provided plenty of run support in a 12-2 victory over UNLV.

The teams, having split the first two games of the series, play the finale at 11:05 a.m. today.

UNLV (17-5, 1-1 Mountain West Conference) had its chances to get to Purke early. The Rebels took a 2-0 lead and loaded the bases with two outs in the first inning. But Purke (3-1) struck out Danny Higa to end the threat.

Purke, a left-hander whose fastball often reaches the mid-90s, allowed three more hits before leaving in the sixth. Because both UNLV runs were unearned, Purke’s ERA dropped to 0.47.

He went 16-0 with a 3.02 ERA last season and was the consensus national Freshman of the Year.

But Purke threw 116 1/3 innings, so he didn’t throw from June until December. He also had a sore shoulder and a blister on the index finger of his pitching hand early this season and is still working his way back into form.

Purke taken out after 5 1/3 innings and 93 pitches against UNLV.

“He’s not even 70 percent of his normal self right now,” said TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle, who coached the Rebels in 2002 and 2003. “We’re trying to be careful with him because we’ve got to have him strong throughout the whole season.”

Purke is expected to be drafted high in June.

“We take care of all them in the same way, but he certainly has a lot at stake,” Schlossnagle said. “He trusted TCU and our staff enough to come to school after his situation with the draft. We want to reward that by making sure he leaves in better shape than he came.”

Purke was drafted in the first round (14th overall) out of high school two years ago by the Texas Rangers. He and the Rangers had agreed to a $6 million signing bonus, but when Major League Baseball took over the club’s finances in July, it wouldn’t go over $4 million.

That sent Purke to college.

“I’m 100 percent TCU,” Purke said. “As soon as I got to campus, there was no second-guessing and no looking back. I’ve enjoyed my stay here. They’ve taken good care of me.”

Against UNLV, TCU (11-7, 1-1) backed Purke’s pitching by taking the lead for good in the fifth inning. After run-scoring hits by Joe Weik and Brance Rivera tied the game, Aaron Schultz delivered a two-out two-run homer to left field for a 4-2 lead.

The Horned Frogs added eight runs over the next three innings.

Right-hander Joe Robinson (3-1) took the loss, giving up seven hits and four earned runs in 5 1/3 innings. He allowed just one hit over the first four innings.

Contact reporter Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2914.

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