Trying to put their season in perspective just a day or two after its conclusion is not easy for TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle or his players.
The goal for the program is not just to reach the College World Series but also to win the national championship.
The sting of going 1-2 in Omaha, Neb., is still fresh, and the struggles at the plate and, to a lesser degree, on the mound — at least in the season-ending 6-4 loss to Mississippi on Thursday — are still circling around Schlossnagle’s head.
“I’m still mad and disappointed that we’re not still playing,” Schlossnagle said from his office while being reminded of his misery each time he glanced at Ole Miss and Virginia playing a CWS game on television.
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“We lost our last game because we didn’t drive in the runs when we had the opportunities and we didn’t pitch as well as we’d been pitching,” he said. “We gave away a lot of free bases either by the pitchers or the defense. That’s something you can never afford to do.”
The Horned Frogs had shown an amazing penchant for executing those elements of the game while going 48-18, the second-most wins in TCU history.
But on March 30, the Frogs were 15-11 overall and 2-4 in the Big 12 and seemingly headed toward their second consecutive year without a postseason.
A pitchers-only meeting and an acceptance by the offense to stay with a team approach started to pay dividends. TCU won 20 of its next 21 games and finished the regular season by winning 27 of its last 30 games, including going 4-0 at the Big 12 tournament to win the school’s first team title in the league.
“We were kind of at a low point then,” TCU first baseman Kevin Cron said. “But getting to the College World Series — we competed hard, and it was an honor to play with these guys and be on that team, the first team to host a super regional and be a national seed.
“It was an absolutely amazing trip, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
The future remains bright for a team that could return the bulk of its starters in 2015. If center fielder Cody Jones and first baseman Jerrick Suiter don’t leave for pro careers, the Frogs would return six position starters, five of whom would be seniors.
“I think we have a chance to have something that you rarely see in college baseball, and that’s have a senior-laden team,” Schlossnagle said. “And it’s a senior-laden team that’s back because they value their degree and they’re here and they’re experienced. There will be players who’ve played here for a solid four years.
“It really has a chance to be incredibly special, so we’re excited about it.”
Replacing senior catcher Kyle Bacak will be the biggest task for TCU. But senior right fielder Dylan Fitzgerald and Cron also leave big holes.
“To play the way [Bacak] played, you don’t find that, you have to develop that over time,” Schlossnagle said. “We have two incoming catchers, and we’re really excited about both those guys. We think they’re really talented and they’re going to have an impact here, but they’re freshmen and we have a lot of work to do.”
The 2014 team should be remembered, Schlossnagle said, for getting “every ounce of potential out of their season.”
“That’s not to say they weren’t talented, because they certainly were, but I think they set a standard for perseverance and how to play in close games,” he said. “They set a standard for the fact that you can turn your season around if you truly buy into what the coaches want you to do.”
Pitcher Brandon Finnegan, who took a no-decision in his last TCU start in Tuesday’s 15-inning loss to Virginia, said finishing his career in Omaha was special.
“That’s every D-I player’s goal. The fact that we were the last five to be in it — and the run we went on — it’s something special,” he said. “We made history at TCU, and I’m glad I was a part of it.”