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Luken Baker powers TCU past Texas Tech

OMAHA, Neb. -- Luken Baker is not the kind of baseball player who looks right in a college uniform.

First, he's 6-foot-4 and 265 pounds and wields a rocket launcher at the plate. He's also got a fastball that reaches the mid-90s.

So when Baker, the 2015 Gatorade National Player of the Year out of Spring, Texas, told pro scouts not to bother with him last year, he envisioned something like the decisive ninth-inning moment on Sunday at TD Ameritrade Park.

Baker smashed a three-run homer over the left-field bullpen off Robert Dugger to give TCU a 5-3 win over Texas Tech to open College World Series play for the Big 12 rivals.

"We were trying to get a ball down and away," Texas Tech coach Tim Tadlock said. "The ball was middle-in."

Likely, though, the pitch location mattered little. Baker is that hot in this postseason.

The home run for the true freshman cleanup hitter was his sixth since the end of the regular season and 10th this year. Baker hit four home runs at the Big 12 tournament, including the game winner in the 10th inning of the title game against West Virginia.

He hit a three-run shot in Game 1 of the Horned Frogs' super regional win at Texas A&M.

His blast on Sunday earned TCU a win in the opening round of the CWS for the third straight season.

Coach Jim Schlossnagle's team, however, lost its second and third games in Omaha in 2014 and 2015. But it didn't have Baker in the lineup.

At the time, he was mashing at Oak Ridge High School outside of Houston. Baker won the 2014 Under Armour high school home-run derby and the Major League Baseball junior select home-run derby at the 2014 All-Star Game in Minneapolis.

Projected as a first-round draft pick last year and set to collect a seven-figure signing bonus, Baker made it clear that he wanted to attend TCU. Still, the Houston Astros took a flyer on the hometown kid in the 37th round. Contract talks never progressed.

And so Baker is a rare talent at the college level.

Texas Tech broke a 2-2 tie in the bottom of the eighth inning on Sunday on Hunter Hargrove's two-out double to score Cory Raley. The Red Raiders, who took two of three games at TCU in the regular season, went to Dugger, unbeaten with six wins and three saves in 28 appearances, for the top of the ninth.

Austen Wade drew a walk. Center fielder Zach Davis then made a diving catch of a Cam Warner line drive before Evan Skoug singled to left field.

Dugger's mistake to Baker, the designated hitter, came on a 1-0 pitch.

"Off the bat, I knew it was fair," Baker said. "There really wasn't a doubt."

His teammates watch Baker in awe.

"Look at the size of him," said reliever Brian Trieglaff, who threw three innings on Sunday. "Whenever he steps up there -- in the fall and spring when I faced him -- he just has that presence."

Warner offered his take on Baker.

"It's unreal," said Warner, who homered in the fourth inning on Sunday to even the score at 1-1. "You can even hear the crowd gasp a little bit whenever he hits the ball."

Schlossnagle describes Baker as a "much better hitter than he is a power hitter."

The TCU coaches won over Baker at a high school camp on the Fort Worth, Texas, campus after the slugger grew up as a fan of Texas A&M.

Both of his parents attended A&M. Arguably, he made the difference in TCU returning to Omaha over the Aggies. And Baker, in his first CWS game, pulled the Horned Frogs from the grips of moving into an elimination game.

What's next for the freshman? Schlossnagle understands the importance of winning on Tuesday. TCU, in three previous trips to the CWS, has never earned that second victory.

Beyond his college days, expect Baker to continue to hit meaningful and impressive home runs. Schlossnagle, before TCU opened play here, compared Baker's hitting mechanics to two-time American League MVP Miguel Cabrera.

"He's not there yet," Schlossnagle said. "But at our level, it's very similar."