Before leaving Fort Worth for the College World Series, TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle gave his team a direct piece of advice.
“If you want to win a national championship you’re going to have to go take it,” Schlossnagle told them.
It may sound like obvious coach-speak, but the Horned Frogs, who had won 33 of their previous 37 games before losing in 15 innings to Virginia 3-2 late Tuesday night, may have needed the reminder that their winning ways could come to a sudden end.
And with Tuesday’s loss at TD Ameritrade Park, every pitch and every at-bat for the Frogs now brings with it an aura of finality.
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TCU (48-17) and Mississippi (47-20) meet in an elimination game at 7 p.m. Thursday.
Only three teams in the last 33 years have won the CWS title without starting 2-0. The Frogs, who haven’t lost consecutive games since March 29-30, must win three consecutive games to reach the championship series. The Rebels swept TCU in a three-game, season-opening series in 2013.
“We know Ole Miss is a good team,” said TCU outfielder Dylan Fitzgerald, who said the sting of Tuesday’s loss is gone. “We know we’re a great team as well. It’s in the past. We’re going to attack this like we have and hopefully we’ll come out on top.”
Frogs freshman left-hander Tyler Alexander (10-3, 2.16 ERA) will face Rebels right-hander Sam Smith (5.4, 3.45).
Alexander is coming off his shortest outing since he returned to the rotation in April after allowing three runs on six hits to Pepperdine in the super regional.
In his previous six starts, the Southlake Carroll graduate had only allowed five earned runs in 46 innings, which included two complete games.
“I definitely want some redemption for my last outing,” said Alexander, who knows there’s much more at stake than his personal pride. “The atmosphere of the World Series and the pressure put on it by the amount of people and the fact that it’s an elimination game will do it on its own, regardless of how I pitched last week.”
The TCU/Ole Miss winner stays alive to play Virginia at 7 p.m. Friday. Virginia advances to the best-of-three championship series with a win. If Virginia (51-14) loses, the same two teams play again in the bracket championship on Saturday.
In 2010, TCU did exactly that. After winning its opener, the Frogs lost their second game before winning two elimination games and forcing a finale against UCLA. The Bruins won and eventually lost to South Carolina in the championship series.
“And that’s what I told the team,” Schlossnagle said. “We lost this same exact game in 2010 and played to within one more win of the championship series. And that’s without as deep a pitching staff as we have now. So they should take confidence in that.”
Despite playing 15 innings, TCU only used three pitchers, including relievers Riley Ferrell (four innings) and Trey Teakell (2 2/3 innings). Neither will be available Thursday night, but left-handers Alex Young, Travis Evans and right-hander Brian Trieglaff are all available, if needed.
It’s a luxury that has helped TCU get to this point and one that helps Alexander relax on the mound. He didn’t pitch poorly last week, but Schlossnagle was able to bring in Jordan Kipper for a long relief stint. Alexander faltered partially because of a stingy strike zone that took away the edges of the plate for him.
“I just didn’t have my best stuff, and we trust our bullpen enough where if I’m struggling we have four or five guys behind me that can pick up the slack, and they did that,” Alexander said.
Alexander came up huge in his two previous starts — throwing consecutive complete-game, one-run gems, in the Big 12 tournament title game and in TCU’s Fort Worth Regional-clinching game. Schlossnagle expects Alexander to respond.
“The fact that he struggled in his last outing makes me even more confident that he’ll be better,” he said.
College World Series
(at TD Ameritrade Park)
Texas 1, UC Irvine 0
Virginia 3, TCU 2 (15)
Mississippi 2, Texas Tech 1
TCU vs. Ole Miss, 7 p.m.
Texas vs. Vanderbilt, 2 p.m.
TCU/Ole Miss winner vs. Virginia, 7 p.m.