While Texas Tech hunted, TCU’s Morrison only teased

06/15/2014 9:36 PM

06/15/2014 10:56 PM

The Pitcher of the Year in the Big 12 Conference does not, as they say, bring the heat.

Instead, he says, he “pounds the strike zone,” but even that is a misnomer.

TCU’s Preston Morrison seldom pounds anything.

At 80-something miles an hour, he tempts. He teases. He ties opposing batters in little knots.

All accolades and season stats aside, Morrison was viewed as somewhat of a surprise choice to start the Horned Frogs’ College World Series opener Sunday against the Texas Tech Red Raiders. Lefty Brandon Finnegan, first-round draft choice of the Kansas City Royals, was viewed by some as a sexier choice.

But TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle, whose Frogs won 3-2, knew better. Sunday’s game was Tech’s date with history, the school’s first ever College World Series game.

“Tip your hat to Coach Schlossnagle and Coach [Kirk] Saarloos on this deal,” Raiders coach Tim Tadlock said. “You play your first World Series game in Omaha, and guys are hunting that fastball. They’re sped up. And you throw a guy throwing 80 to 82 and changing speeds like that ...”

While the Red Raiders were “hunting that fastball,” therefore, right-hander Morrison was doing his thing — the go-ahead-and-hit-it thing, pulling the string, moving the Tech cheese.

It may not set pro scouts’ hearts aflutter, but Morrison’s three-year totals at TCU are golden. In 356-plus innings, he has a career earned run average of 1.61 and has walked only 51 batters and allowed four home runs.

That’s a home run roughly every three months.

It’s little wonder that in Yosemite-sized TD Ameritrade Park, Morrison seemed fearless Sunday. Through seven innings, though normally not a strikeout pitcher, he had fanned 10 Red Raiders and held Tech scoreless.

The problem for TCU was that Texas Tech starter Chris Sadberry had all but matched Morrison on the scoreboard. The Frogs were leading 1-0 when Tadlock made what he felt was a responsible decision and pulled Sadberry after 97 pitches.

We couldn’t hear them, but sighs of relief must have washed through the TCU dugout. Boomer White’s game-deciding single soon came against left-handed reliever Jonny Drozd.

“Of course, now we can go hindsight and go, ‘Why didn’t we leave him in, right?’ Had to listen to the dumb manager,” Tadlock said. “But we had decided before we scored the runs. Very rarely do these guys go past 100 pitches, and we’re always going to do what’s best for these guys and for their careers long-term.”

In defense of Tadlock, Drozd has been Tech’s most dependable arm in the bullpen throughout the postseason.

White, a right-handed hitter, confessed, however, that he was glad to see a lefty on his winning at-bat.

The same could be said, though, for Tech facing Morrison. When he faced the Red Raiders in March, Morrison was chased in the third inning after allowing six hits and four runs.

“That wasn’t me at all,” Morrison said Sunday. “I didn’t have any control.”

If the March 22 game was Morrison’s worst of the season, Sunday’s CWS opener had to be the best. The junior from Waxhaw, N.C., didn’t let the big stage distract him.

Unflappable through his seven scoreless innings, Morrison even mixed in a teasing curve ball at one point that the stadium radar gun clocked at 59 mph. Mixing speeds is a key part of Morrison’s routine.

“I’ve had that ever since I started pitching,” he said. “I’ve never been able to throw very hard. I rely more on control, taking a little off, putting a little on. It’s just something I always had.”

As the story goes, Morrison let it be known before the recent MLB draft that unless someone was offering the big bucks, he intended to return to TCU for his senior season. He went undrafted.

“It wasn’t so much putting a price tag on myself,” Morrison said, “but putting a price tag on coming back to such a great university. It’s the perfect setup in my eyes — a great program and a great education.”

Finnegan is the TCU staff’s first-rounder. Morrison is likely going to be somebody’s intriguing 2015 gamble.

“I definitely understand,” he said Sunday. “There’s not many guys like me, not many likely to have success. But I think scouts can look a little bit and say, ‘If a guy can pitch, he can pitch.’ ”

Preston Morrison can, indeed, pitch, he showed Sunday.

Tech hunted. Morrison teased.

Schlossnagle made a wise choice.

About Gil LeBreton

Gil LeBreton

@gilebreton

Whether it's pondering Moose McNuggets at the McDonald's in Norway or chasing Lance Armstrong up some mountaintop in France, Gil LeBreton has been entertaining Star-Telegram readers for nearly 30 years. He's covered 21 Super Bowls, 14 Olympic Games (summer and winter), saw Muhammad Ali box, Paul Newman drive a race car and Prince Albert try to steer a bobsled.

Gil also once briefly held the WBC Junior Welterweight title belt -- he had to, because the guy he was interviewing, champ Bruce Curry, had to suddenly step into the men's room.

Email Gil at gilebreton@star-telegram.com

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