The Big 12 had a down year in 2013 and TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle doesn’t mind being brutally honest about it.
When a reporter gingerly asked about the league’s resurgence in 2014, Schlossnagle, surrounded by reporters after TCU’s first practice at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, didn’t mince words.
“The league actually wasn’t very good last year and the reason it wasn’t very good was because TCU, and I’m sure [Texas coach] Augie [Garrido] would admit, Texas, too … I know we weren’t very good,” he said. “We didn’t do our share. We weren’t very good and we didn’t play very well.”
Indeed, TCU, Texas and Texas Tech finished at the bottom of the league a year ago. The Horned Frogs and Longhorns, perennial postseason participants, were left holding their rosin bags with nowhere to go when postseason started.
Texas Tech, under first-year coach Tim Tadlock, finished 26-30 in 2013. TCU, in its first season in the Big 12, finished 29-28 and 12-12 in the league and missed the postseason for the first time since Schlossnagle became coach before the 2004 season. Texas finished last with a 7-17 league mark and missed the postseason for a second consecutive season. An inconceivable notion considering Texas’ dominance over the years. Even Baylor, which finished under .500, missed the postseason, leaving the state of Texas with just four teams in the field of 64. Only one of those teams, Rice, advanced to the super regionals.
A year later, however, the scene has changed. Seven teams earned NCAA tournament berths and four advanced to the super regionals. TCU, Texas and Texas Tech — at the bottom of the Big 12 a year ago — advanced to the College World Series, the most from the state in one year.
Tadlock and Schlossnagle, whose teams meet at 2 p.m. Sunday in their CWS opener, sat next to each other during a Friday press conference, along with Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco and Virginia coach Brian O’Connor. Ole Miss and Virginia play at 7 p.m. Sunday. Texas (43-19) opens the 2014 CWS against UC Irvine (40-23) at 2 p.m. Saturday. Louisville and Vanderbilt play at 7 p.m. Saturday.
“It’s something that’s neat for the state of Texas,” Tadlock said. “There’s some really good teams in the state of Texas that aren’t here. I can assure you right now they’re trying to round up some guys and put together a competitive team. We all really enjoy that competition, and we all get along. It’s a neat fraternity of people and just a neat time.”
That goes for the Big 12, too. The league’s coaches have touted the improvement all season. Baylor’s Steve Smith campaigned for TCU to earn a national seed at the league tournament and emphasized how good and deep the league’s pitching was. TCU earned its first national seed (No. 7) a few days later.
“It was a great turnaround for our conference,” Schlossnagle said. “We’ve been touting the qualities of our league all season, and for me, no disrespect — I grew up in western Maryland in the heart of ACC country and I cut my teeth as an assistant coach in New Orleans in the heart of SEC country so I know how great these leagues are. I’m glad everything we’ve been talking about all year showed itself on the field of play.”
The resurgence of the state and the Big 12 is not lost on the players, either. They have high school teammates playing throughout the state.
“It speaks to the talent that the state of Texas has in baseball,” TCU catcher Kyle Bacak said. “Any division school in Texas is good at baseball because the talent is so deep. Sam [Houston State] gave us pretty much all we could handle in a 22-inning game. We played Dallas Baptist a couple of times and had a 15-inning game against them. I feel like the talent in Texas is at another level. It doesn’t matter who you’re playing, there are no pushovers.”
TCU was pulling for all its Big 12 brothers to earn a CWS berth, including Oklahoma State, which was swept by UC Irvine in the super regionals.
“I think it says that the Big 12, from top to bottom, is very talented,” he said. “Some of us had down years last year. We kind of took that to heart and during the off-season and really worked our butts off and now we’re where we want to be: a chance to play for a national championship.”
A look at the eight-team CWS field:
Louisville Cardinals (50-15)
Ole Miss Rebels (46-19)
TCU Horned Frogs (47-16)
Texas Longhorns (43-19)
Texas Tech Red Raiders (45-19)
UC Irvine Anteaters (40-23)
Vanderbilt Commodores (46-19)
Virginia Cavaliers (49-14)