TCU’s postseason fate is starting to take shape, but one big piece still remains in play.
The Horned Frogs, who evened their series against Baylor with a 5-0 win on Friday at Baylor Ballpark, are still hoping to lock down a hosting bid for the NCAA Regionals.
A win in the regular-season finale against Baylor (24-28, 8-14 Big 12) at 6:35 p.m. Saturday likely would earn the Frogs (37-15, 16-7) the honor. TCU hasn’t lost a three-game weekend series since losing two of three at Oklahoma State the last weekend in March — that’s six consecutive series wins.
TCU pitcher Preston Morrison (8-3) was magnificent in a three-hit, eight-inning scoreless outing as the Frogs set a Big 12 record with their 14th shutout of the season, breaking Texas’ 2011 league record. Morrison lowered his league-leading ERA to 1.18 while striking out six and walking one.
TCU has clinched the No. 2 seed in the Big 12 tournament and will open against seventh-seeded Baylor at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark in Oklahoma City.
Oklahoma State (41-13, 18-5), which clinched the league’s regular-season title outright with its Friday night win against Oklahoma, opens the tournament against eighth-seeded OU at 4 p.m. Wednesday. Third-seeded Kansas (33-21, 15-9) opens against the sixth seed at 9 a.m. Seeds Nos. 4 and 5 play at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.
The tournament champion earns an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament field of 64 teams. OSU, TCU, Kansas, Texas Tech, Texas and West Virginia likely have already earned at-large spots. A year ago, the Big 12 sent only three teams to the postseason — Kansas State, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. K-State finished in last place in the Big 12 this season, which prevents the Wildcats from playing in the league tournament.
“It’s pretty disappointing that we didn’t at least get a piece of that [regular-season conference title], but we’re ready to put it behind us now and finish off this series and see what we can do in the postseason,” said third baseman Derek Odell, who had three hits on Friday.
TCU struggled offensively again, especially with runners in scoring position. The Frogs left 13 runners on base and had the bases loaded, twice with no outs and once with one out, but only managed a run each in the fourth, sixth and eighth innings.
“That was an anemic offensive effort,” TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle said. “We put all kinds of work in a ton of innings and score one run or no runs. I’m just really disappointed in our sense of urgency and energy in the dugout. Thank goodness for Preston, or we would have been in a dogfight. We ran the bases poorly. We have so much to play for.”
With TCU holding a 4-0 lead, Baylor had two runners on with no outs in the seventh, but Morrison worked out of the jam. He forced a pop-up to short and then two groundouts to keep the Bears off the board.
“I just wanted to make my pitches and really focus on making my pitches,” Morrison said. “Those runs weren’t going to hurt too bad, so I was trying to prevent the big inning. The last two guys, I was able to stay aggressive and make my pitches. I wasn’t afraid, so I went right at them.”
Morrison faced just three batters over the minimum before Travis Evans pitched the ninth.
“We have a lot of good pitchers, but the consistency with which Preston has gone about his whole college career is unbelievable,” TCU catcher Kyle Bacak said. “However good he is, when someone gets on, I just feel like they don’t even have a chance because he really, really locks in. Preston is the man.”
Baylor right-handed freshman Nick Lewis (0-0) will make his first career start Saturday against TCU lefty Tyler Alexander (7-3).