After the longest night in TCU baseball history, it was time for the Horned Frogs to keep it quick. And clean.
“That’s exactly the way we want to play the game of baseball right there,” TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle said, after the Frogs had punched their ticket to the NCAA Super Regional with a 6-1 victory over Sam Houston State.
The ESPN TV crew had asked Schlossnagle before the weekend began to describe his team’s playing style.
“We pride ourselves on playing really clean baseball,” Schlossnagle said he told them. “Not screwing the game up.
“That’s why last night was ... embarrassing. That’s not the way our team plays.”
He was talking about the fielding misplays that helped to turn Saturday’s winners bracket showdown with the Bearkats into an epic, 22-inning, nearly seven-hour survival struggle.
Sunday’s regional finale, however, proved to be almost everything that the 22-game wasn’t.
As Schlossnagle recited the formula, “Throw strikes. Force the other team to swing the bats. Run our offense. Get our bunts down. Do all the little things.”
Lefty Tyler Alexander, a freshman from Southlake, took care of the first part. He went the distance, scattering six hits and walking only one, while throwing 101 pitches.
It was a senior-like effort from a youngster who was a 23rd-round draft choice of the Detroit Tigers a year ago. Only once in his nine innings Saturday did the Bearkats get as many as two runners on base.
It marked the third time in three nights that the Frogs had received a stellar, shut-down performance from their starting pitcher. All three starters went at least seven innings, and all three allowed only one earned run.
That kind of pitching — the TCU bullpen also didn’t allow a run during the tournament — could get the Frogs a long way.
They have already traveled miles since late March, when they lost their first two Big 12 series of the season. Sunday’s victory was TCU’s 30th in its past 33 games and seventh in a row since the regular season ended.
No team will enter the Super Regionals next week on any bigger roll than the Frogs.
But as hosts of an NCAA Super Regional for the first time, there is work yet to do, the Frogs know. Instead of the traditional celebratory dog pile, the Frogs responded to Sunday’s final out with handshakes and hugs.
Maybe that’s what playing until 2:30 a.m. will do.
As third baseman Derek Odell said, though, “We’ve got bigger things on our minds.”
Schlossnagle began his postgame remarks by giving well-deserved praise to the visiting Bearkats, who somehow managed to kick-start themselves and eliminate Siena in Sunday’s afternoon game.
By Sunday, the controversial 21st-inning interference call in the wee hours of the morning seemed like a foggy memory — though it’s likely to burn in the Bearkats’ heads for a long time.
Schlossnagle turned his attention Sunday night to the historic week ahead. He told a story about walking out to center field in a deserted Lupton Stadium on the night he was hired for the TCU job.
“My dream was to one day be here, playing for the right to go to the College World Series in front of our own crowd,” Schlossnagle said.
On Sunday night, as it turned out, there was plenty of time to dream ... and finally to sleep.
The regional clincher had been quick. And clean.
Just the way the coach wanted it.