College Sports

June 5, 2014

Big 12 teams are two wins from filling half of CWS field

Texas and Oklahoma State host super regionals beginning Friday, while TCU and Texas Tech host beginning Saturday.

The last time TCU made it to the NCAA Super Regionals the Horned Frogs were playing their last games as a member of the Mountain West Conference.

It was June 2012 and TCU was swept by UCLA in Los Angeles.

That same year, two Big 12 Conference teams were still playing — Baylor hosted Arkansas and Oklahoma was at South Carolina. Both failed to advance.

A year ago, only three Big 12 teams made the postseason (Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma), a down year for the conference by all accounts, especially considering that eight teams were in the field in 2009.

The Big 12 hasn’t sent a team to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., since 2011 when Texas and Texas A&M advanced.

That is likely to change in 2014.

A record four league teams host super regionals this weekend, beginning at 3 p.m. Friday with Texas hosting Houston in the Austin Super Regional and Oklahoma State hosting UC Irvine in the Stillwater Super Regional at 8:30 p.m.

On Saturday, TCU hosts Pepperdine and Texas Tech hosts College of Charleston in the openers of best-of-three series.

When the super regionals conclude Monday, the Big 12 could field half the teams in the CWS, which begins June 14.

“The type of baseball that’s being played in the conference is next to none,” TCU third baseman Derek Odell said. “Anybody can beat anybody on any given day. It really made us focus day by day to get where we are right now.”

The Horned Frogs (45-15), who open against Pepperdine (42-19) at 3 p.m. Saturday at Lupton Stadium, remember the feeling of watching UCLA celebrate its berth to the CWS in ’12.

“We want to experience the dogpile and going to Omaha and getting the chance to win a national championship,” said TCU pitcher Brandon Finnegan, who will start Saturday’s opener against Pepperdine right-hander Corey Miller (9-4). “I mean, that’s why we come to the field every day juiced up. We’re ready to roll and get this thing going.”

TCU faced some strong teams in the MWC, but never dealt with the depth of quality pitching the Big 12 puts on the mound. And in 2014, the league’s pitching was as good and as deep as ever.

“Overall the pitching I saw in the Big 12 was better than most of the other conferences,” said ESPN analyst Keith Moreland, who will do the color for the Fort Worth Super Regional on ESPNU. “The depth from the starter to the guys they could go get in the bullpen and the guys that were closing.”

Moreland, who played at Texas and spent 12 years in the major leagues, still gives the nod to the Southeastern Conference as the toughest league. The SEC sent 10 of its 14 teams to the postseason. But only two of them are still standing — Ole Miss and Vanderbilt.

“I think the Big 12’s top four or five teams could’ve played in that league and done just fine,” Moreland said. “I’m not sure the lower third had the depth to play in that league. And there are some good coaches there, and they won’t be down there long.”

K-State and OU — two super regional teams a year ago — didn’t even qualify for the postseason this year, which highlights the cutthroat nature of the Big 12 at the moment. Texas, which finished fifth in the league, and Texas Tech, which finished fourth, went on the road and escaped tough regionals to earn the right to host super regionals.

Texas is trying to return to its record 35th CWS appearance. Texas Tech is two wins from its first trip. OSU has been there 19 times but not since 1999. TCU’s lone CWS appearance was in 2010.

All four are tantalizing close now.

“Knowing it is two games away from the promised land kind of gives everybody a positive uplift,” said Odell, who was a freshman in ’12. “Looking back on it now I don’t feel like I cherished it as much as I should have. I feel like I had a little bit left in the tank that I always wished that I’d given a little more. I didn’t understand what I understand now about the game.

“We know what the atmosphere is like and it’s so close.”

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