The ball that Elliott Barzilli hit to right field to save TCU’s baseball season Monday night didn’t stay there long.
Someone remembered in the middle of the celebration following the Horned Frogs’ 9-8 victory in 10 innings against NC State — or a little bit afterward — to pick it up and give it to him.
In turn, he gave it to his mom, who had been in the stands at Lupton Stadium. She could take it back home to Los Angeles, where Barzilli started his journey that led him to Georgia Tech and then Fort Worth for the moment he stepped to the plate and saved a season.
“I let her have it. It’s something nice for her,” he said. “I don’t know what I would have done with it.”
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Barzilli’s run-scoring single through a drawn-in infield completed a comeback from an 8-1 eighth-inning deficit in the championship game of the Fort Worth Regional, advancing the Frogs to a Super Regional best-of-three series this weekend against Texas A&M.
A loss would have ended the season for the most experienced, deepest and pitching-rich team in TCU history. Instead, it was kept alive by one of its least-used players.
Barzilli, a sophomore utility infielder, had batted in only one other game in the regional, and he had appeared in just three of the previous nine games. The Frogs had set their postseason lineup, and he wasn’t in it.
But he never regretted being at TCU. Just 11 months earlier, he didn’t have a place to play at all, unexpectedly told by Georgia Tech that he wasn’t in their plans and should look for another school.
“They told me I wasn’t going to be a factor on the team,” he said. “I was honestly devastated to hear that. If I could look back and know I would end up at TCU for my sophomore year, I would not have been freaking out at that moment. I love TCU — it’s a great school. Baseball here is a cherry on top.”
TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle, already looking for a shortstop for the next season, heard Barzilli’s name through the grapevine and helped steer him to Grayson Junior College, hoping he’d consider TCU in 2016.
But then Georgia Tech did Barzilli a favor — they signed off on immediate eligibility for him, and he came to Fort Worth.
“Instead of looking at junior colleges, he was now considering two or three four-year colleges,” Schlossnagle said.
TCU’s reputation, coming off a College World Series appearance, sold the power-hitting infielder, who had two home runs and six doubles in only 34 games for Georgia Tech.
“Especially after the year they had, I couldn’t not consider TCU,” Barzilli said. “It was just too good of an option.”
Barzilli said his older brother, Julian, went to four colleges in four years before reaching professional baseball. So he figured his own journey of two schools in two years was no big deal.
But just before TCU began practice in January, another problem for Barzilli — a thyroid abscess in his throat.
“It was killing me,” he said. “It was hurting to swallow.”
The infection got so bad, he was hospitalized.
“I remember there were so many things holding me back,” he said. “I wore a neck guard for the first few weeks of the season, a hockey one. It was kind of a scary thing. I just knew I had to get through it.”
He did get through it, and by the season opener he was in the lineup at designated hitter. But Connor Wanhanen eventually won that job, and without an infield position open, Barzilli settled into his role as a backup infielder. His most extended playing time came when first baseman Jeremie Fagnan was out two weeks after hurting his foot on a slide against Texas — and first base was Barzilli’s least comfortable spot.
Without a starting job, trying to learn an unfamiliar position, Barzilli could have struggled emotionally. Instead, he remained the loose California kid his teammates had gotten to know.
“I wouldn’t want to say he’s a character, because he’s not always the goofiest guy around — but he’s up there,” senior third baseman Derek Odell said. “We all like a good laugh, but he especially likes that. He likes to make us all laugh. He kind of has that quiet humor, but he’s bought into everything that our program stands for from the word go. And he’s worked his tail off.”
Said Evan Williams, who pinch hit to start the 10th and scored on Barzilli’s hit, “He’s never down about anything. If you’re having a bad day, find Elliott. He’ll bring you up.”
The team had quickly gotten to know Barzilli’s charm. When the Frogs played at the Dodgertown Classic over spring break, Barzilli arranged for a team dinner at a relative’s home in Pacific Palisades, Schlossnagle said.
“Up in the Hollywood Hills,” Schlossnagle said. “Pretty neat.”
In 33 games with the Frogs, Barzilli has hit .250 with two home runs and 12 RBIs. The pop in his bat is why he entered the game Monday as a pinch-hitter for Wanhanen in the eighth inning with the go-ahead run at second base.
Two innings later, he told himself, “It’s just baseball,” and hit one to right field.
“Elliott has had to pick up whatever role he possibly can, and he’s done a great job of doing that,” senior third baseman Derek Odell said. “Coach Schloss always says be ready when the game comes calling, because it’s going to.
“He’s been a great teammate to me. He deserves the world. He deserves nothing less than what he got Monday night, because the game knows. He was ready when the game called.”
Carlos Mendez, 817-390-7407
TCU (47-12) vs. A&M (49-12)
at Lupton Stadium
Gm 1: 2 p.m. Saturday, ESPN
Gm 2: 1:15 p.m. Sunday, ESPN
Gm 3: TBA Mon., ESPN, if nec.