Omaha, Omaha: Reflections from another TCU visit without a dogpile

Tsk, tsk, tsk. Omaha, Omaha.

One day you’re in the winners bracket, ordering the Whiskey Rib Eye at The Drover, living in luxury at the two-star Sleep Inn by the airport . . . and the next day you’re out of the tournament and checking the flights for home.

Cruel finishes abound at the College World Series. One team wins the trophy and gets to dogpile. The other seven, also somewhat like dogs, are forced to put their noses in their business and explain what went wrong.

That’s why coach Jim Schlossnagle half-winced when he was asked late Saturday night to reflect on a TCU season that had a fairy tale ride –with a trap-door ending.

"We had so many new players going into the season," Schlossnagle began. "So you just really didn’t know what you were going to get."

Somehow at the end, though, here were Schlossnagle and the Horned Frogs right back where they concluded their two previous seasons.

Omaha, Omaha.

Except this time it was different. This time it wasn’t just the sizzle, but the Frogs could almost taste the steak.

Two victories in their first two Omaha games gave them two days off, and the guys in Vegas will tell you that this is always the wrong thing to do. Nope, you keep rolling the dice. Fortune is fleeting.

Maybe they lost their mojo waiting for Coastal Carolina and Texas Tech to decide what we all thought was going to be the consolation prize. Maybe it gave the Chanticleers the chance they needed to press the reset button.

Whatever it was, the mood was understandably glum after Saturday night’s defeat, as the Frogs prepared to again tell Omaha goodbye.

There is the possibility that Schlossnagle will only lose two seniors, Preston Guillory and Dane Steinhagen, from this year’s club. There’s also hope that the program’s top signee, 6-foot-6 left-handed pitcher Nick Lodolo of La Verne, Calif., will choose to attend college despite being selected 41st by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the recent MLB Draft.

But one thing Schlossnagle knows better than anybody is that the road to Omaha doesn’t get any shorter. A team still has to make a lot of pitches, score a lot of runs and win a lot of games to get back to the College World Series.

And Saturday night was too soon to be thinking of that.

A few final Omaha reflections:

1, Rooster Nation. Sometimes you don’t need 13 MLB draft choices (Texas A&M) or the No. 6 player in the land (Florida) to get to the CWS championship series.

The Coastal Carolina Chanticleers have done it with simple, sound baseball, all executed at the right time – i.e., the final four weeks of the college baseball season.

Schlossnagle was asked Saturday night to explain what the Chanticleers had going for them.

"I just think the teams that are left at this time of year, they are either hot, talented or both," he said. "And they’re both.

"Their lineup has great savvy. They can do a lot of different things and beat you. If you make mistakes, they can get on a roll quickly.

"They seem to have some toughness. And those two starting pitchers, to do what they they’ve done this week, that’s incredible."

2, The not-so-Big 12. At the end of the College World Series’ first week, the talk was about the overlooked and under-appreciated Big 12 Conference.

Of the six teams that were still standing at midweek, three were from the Big 12.

The two teams that will play for the title this week, however, are from the Big South Conference and the third-place team in the Pac 12.

Arizona, which has emerged as the best of the West, had a 16-14 record in conference play and lost non-conference games to the likes of Lamar, Northwestern (La.) State, Rice and Cal-Riverside.

Coastal Carolina, meanwhile, cruised to a 21-3 record in its league, playing against, among others, High Point, Longwood, Winthrop and Presbyterian College.

But TCU fans had best not judge. Don’t hold it against Coastal that it was consigned to play in a relatively obscure conference.

TCU football faced the same thing while trying to crash college football’s glass ceiling as a member of the Mountain West.

The lesson: Great teams can be found anywhere, whether it’s Myrtle Beach, S.C., or Nashville, Tenn.

In the end, the three Big 12 teams were ousted because they were out-pitched and out-hit by the two hottest teams in the tournament.

As a wise baseball man who used to work in Arlington would say, "That’s the way baseball go."

3, The second guess. Far be it for me to second-guess a head coach who I consider the best at his job in college baseball.

I’ve lightly done it before, delicately, and Jim Schlossnagle always has made me feel dumb by giving a readily explainable answer.

Nonetheless, here is Saturday’s second guess:

I thought he pulled the plug on starter Jared Janczak too early. Schlossnagle lifted the freshman after three runs over three innings, and I could see what he was doing – trying to reverse the momentum with a reliever (Brian Trieglaff) that he felt could put zeroes on the board for the next two or three innings.

It didn’t work. Coastal erupted for five hits and four runs, most of it with two outs. The key play was David Parrett’s long, lingering fly ball that TCU left fielder Josh Watson couldn’t quite catch up to.

Watson, who wasn’t playing deep with Coastal’s No. 9 hitter at the plate, had a long way to run in the expansive outfield at TD Ameritrade Park. The same thing happened to center fielder Dane Steinhagen on G.K. Young’s triple in the previous inning.

But so the day went – when the TCU outfield played in, the Chanticleers hit it over their heads; when they played back, the Chants dropped singles in front of them.

Janczak gave up a solo homer to Tyler Chadwick in the second inning, but if Young’s ball had been caught on the warning track, that would have been the third out and the inning would have been scoreless. And if Parrett’s ball had been chased down, the strikeout of Michael Paez that followed would have also made the fourth inning scoreless.

Just sayin’.

It’s late. And some of us have a flight home to catch.

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