TCU’s only path to the NCAA postseason has been set.
The Horned Frogs, the seventh seed in the Big 12 tournament, open against No. 2 seed Oklahoma State at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark in Oklahoma City.
If the Frogs (28-26) win, they advance to play the winner between No. 3 seed West Virginia and No. 6 seed Kansas at 7:30 p.m. Thursday.
If TCU opens with two wins, it will get Friday off and play at 12:30 p.m. Saturday for a chance to move into Sunday’s title game. The format is double-elimination.
But TCU hasn’t swept anyone this season and with so many similarly matched teams in the bracket, a smooth ride to the title game is unlikely. Except for top-seeded Kansas State (16-8) and bottom-seeded Texas Tech (9-15), the middle six teams in the bracket are bunched together with similar league records between 13-10 and 12-12. TCU lost series against K-State and Kansas and was swept by Oklahoma.
But the losses to OU and KU came in March when the Frogs were still spinning their wheels offensively.
“I think all the teams are real similar,” TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle said. “Everybody has an elite starting pitcher.”
Preston Morrison (7-3), who beat OSU 2-0 after going 8 1/3 innings April 12, will start Wednesday. In his first postseason with TCU a year ago, Morrison wasn’t as sharp as he had been while going 9-0 during the regular season.
He earned his first loss of the 2012 season at the Mountain West Conference tournament after allowing three earned runs in six innings against New Mexico. His start in the opener at the College Station Regional was better (two earned runs in 6 1/3) against Ole Miss, but TCU lost 6-2.
In the regional final, Morrison returned on short rest against Ole Miss and allowed three earned runs in 4 1/3. Justin Scharf came in and held the Rebels to one run in the final 4 2/3 innings to help send the Frogs to their third Super Regional in four seasons.
In Game 2 of the Super Regional against UCLA, Morrison only went 3 1/2 innings after falling behind 2-0 and TCU was eliminated with a 4-1 loss.
“I wasn’t pleased with my starts last year in the postseason,” Morrison said. “I didn’t go as long as I wanted to and I got hit around a bit. My arm wasn’t in the shape it’s in right now. I’m good to go. I’ve grown a little bit. I’ve been in the weight room.”
In April, the Frogs won two of three against the Cowboys, including Game 3 in which they rallied to score three runs in the bottom of the ninth to win 3-2, perhaps the emotional high point of their season thus far.
Including that comeback win, TCU finished the season 13-6 and won five of its last six series. By any measure, especially in wins, TCU is playing the best it has played at the moment.
“We feel great,” TCU third baseman Jantzen Witte said. “It started last year where we peaked at the right time. We flipped the switch for whatever reason, so we’re hoping to do that again this year. Our pitching is still lights out and [offensively] everybody is starting to come around.”
For Schlossnagle, there’s no question his team has turned a corner.
“We are infinitely a better team today than obviously the beginning of the season, but not even just [compared to] the halfway point, but even [from] three weeks ago,” he said. “So I’m very confident about our club and just fired up to get to Oklahoma City.”