Gil LeBreton

May 13, 2014

TCU baseball decides it’s not ready to go home early

Coach’s meeting spelled out the direction the Horned Frogs have taken.

For the TCU baseball team, the moment of clarity came on the final weekend of March, after a disappointing three-game series at Oklahoma State.

The Horned Frogs could have won that series, but they dropped the second game 2-1 on a single in the bottom of the ninth. TCU left 11 men on base that day, stranding runners at third in each of the final two innings.

After losing the next day in Stillwater, the Frogs had a 15-12 record and were 2-4 in the Big 12.

With the season at a crossroads, coach Jim Schlossnagle gathered the Frogs in front of a grease board and wrote down the names of 10 other college teams.

“It was a list of teams that were at .500 or close to it,” Schlossnagle said Tuesday. “I said, ‘Out of these 10 teams, somebody is going to Omaha, one or two teams maybe are going to a regional, and everybody else is going home.’

“I asked them, ‘What’s going to have to happen for us to be one of those teams that doesn’t go home at the end of the season?’ ”

The answer, Schlossnagle knew, wasn’t anything new. He and his staff had been preaching fundamentals and the virtues of solid play since fall practice.

“For us to win, we had to play really sound baseball,” he said. “We had to get excited about moving the runner to third base. We had to get excited about getting the bunt down. We have to throw strikes. And we have to make the routine play, because we’re not incredibly athletic. We don’t have great range in the infield, and we’re not going to hit for power.

“But we can play good baseball.”

A 12-6 victory over UTA followed that Tuesday night. The Frogs have lost only twice since.

“You go from three outs away from a 2-5 record in the conference, and it shakes you up a bit,” Schlossnagle said. “It all kind of took off from there.”

Where it’s going to stop, Schlossnagle doesn’t know. But it’s likely that TCU will return to the NCAA tournament this season and could well host one of the 16 first-round regionals again.

On paper, the Frogs have been doing it with pitching. Opponents are hitting just .222 against the TCU staff. Preston Morrison has a 1.28 earned run average and seven victories. Brandon Finnegan is 8-2, and reliever Riley Ferrell has 11 saves and teams are hitting just .140 against him.

But even having the Big 12’s stingiest pitching staff can’t help if the lineup isn’t scoring any runs. That’s where Schlossnagle feels the meeting before the UTA game U-turned things.

It helped getting injured second baseman Garrett Crain back in the lineup, along with Jerrick Suiter in the No. 6 spot.

“The guys just got their confidence back,” Schlossnagle said. “We had a couple of comebacks, won some games in a row, and they started to feel like they could win any game. Once you come back and win one, you feel like you’re never out of a game.”

When the NCAA tournament committee meets, the boldest lines in the TCU résumé are going to be the three-game sweep that the Frogs registered over Texas in Austin, a series in which the Longhorns scored only one run.

Along the way to winning 20 of 22, the TCU hitters came to grips with another thing. After fighting the dead-bat, new landscape of college baseball, the Frogs finally have bought into hitting coach Bill Mosiello’s grind-it-out, make-every-at-bat-productive philosophy.

TCU has only four home runs in conference play, 11 overall for the season. The 2010 College World Series team hit 101 home runs.

Those days are gone, however, for all of college baseball.

In a 21-7 victory over Kansas State earlier this month, the Frogs had 18 hits — all singles.

“On most days, with these bats, you’d better really groove yourself a nice, flat swing, hit the ball hard and try to hit a low line drive and use the middle of the field,” Schlossnagle said.

“It’s everything every good hitting coach wants his team to do. Our guys have bought into that.”

After a disappointing 2013 season, the Frogs have the NCAA tournament on their calendars again.

The meeting must have worked.

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