By the time we get to that point when every pitch and at-bat feels like the end of the world -- you know that feeling, when your team is a strike, an out, or an RBI single away from victory -- TCU's season-opening series at Grand Canyon University will seem like ancient history.
The weather will change from wet and cold to hot and sunny. The pressure riding on each game will be ratcheted up as the Horned Frogs hope to navigate their way to a fifth consecutive College World Series. But for coach Jim Schlossnagle, who begins his 15th season at TCU when the Frogs open against GCU at 7 p.m. Friday in Phoenix, the road back to Omaha begins now.
Truth be told, for Schlossnagle and his team, that road actually began during fall practice. Let's call the lead up, including two weeks of official practice, test laps. It's the real deal now. Omaha is set in TCU's GPS.
1. Drive for Five
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Only seven teams in the history of the College World Series have made it to Omaha five consecutive seasons. That's what TCU is trying to do in 2018. The last to do it was Stanford from 1999 to 2003. The others are Miami (1978-82 and 1994-99), Northern Colorado (1957-62), Oklahoma (1972-76), Oklahoma State (1981-87), USC (1970-74 won title all five years) and Texas (1981-85).
Interesting note: Miami's first CWS appearance was in 1974. The Canes didn't return for four years until '78 they went started their five-year run, which culminated with the private school's first ever CWS title in 1982. TCU's first CWS was in 2010. The Frogs didn't go back until 2014.
Could they be following Miami's path to their first ever title?
2. New players, same goal
The Horned Frogs have a bunch of new faces on their roster. Among the 15 new players are nine freshman and six transfers. These aren't just roster fillers either. Many will be in the starting lineup, including freshmen second baseman Coby Boulware and shortstop Adam Oviedo along with transfers in center fielder Johnny Rizer (Blinn College) and third baseman Conner Shepherd (Mt. San Antonio College). This group will be partly responsible for replacing 46 home runs and 288 RBIs that departing players collected in 2017.
3. Pitching still rules
The key to a long run in the postseason is pitching. Teams need strong starters, a deep bullpen, and at least one closer who can shut the door. Pitching depth has been an important aspect, of course, to TCU's string of four straight CWS appearances. During that four-year stretch, TCU's 2.93 team ERA is the fifth-lowest in the nation.
TCU's 38 shutouts over the past four seasons is second-most in the nation. Closer Durbin Feltman had a TCU-record 17 saves in 2017. The junior right-hander needs seven saves to break Riley Ferrell’s TCU career record of 32 from 2013-15.