Two weeks ago in Tulsa, Derek Odell lost the grip on a routine ground ball and couldn’t throw it in time to start a double play.
It was part of the reason TCU had to come home after two games at the Big 12 tournament.
So he promised himself something. Actually, he promised the team something — that in the week that followed, before the Horned Frogs would play again in the Fort Worth Regional, he would get better.
“Before the regional started, we all went around the room and said something we were going to vow to spend this extra time on,” he said. “If we could sharpen up one thing, what could it be? I said I want to sharpen up the routine plays.”
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The result has indeed been sharpened up routine plays. But also non-routine plays.
He has laid out for balls. He has charged bunts and thrown on the run. He made a pinpoint throw home to get a runner at the plate.
He was errorless in 18 chances in five games in the regional tournament. In the 50 games before that, he made 10 errors in 127 chances.
“He worked really hard on those routine plays,” pitcher Tyler Alexander said. “Those great plays that he’s made, those come from just making the routine ones.”
Maybe it meant something with the bat, too. Odell hit .368 during the regional, 88 points higher than his season average coming in.
“He’s playing the best baseball he’s ever played in college. No doubt,” coach Jim Schlossnagle said, then smiled. “Maybe it’s because he’s a graduate — he doesn’t have to go to school anymore.”
Schlossnagle knocked the wood on his desk.
“It’s a great time for it. We need it to continue.”
Well, that’s Odell’s plan, too. After fulfilling not only his promise to the team (but also a promise to himself to get on base to start the ninth inning in Monday night’s seven-run comeback), he is leaving nothing undone in a bid to return to the College World Series.
He and the Horned Frogs can get there if they win a best-of-three series against Texas A&M starting Saturday at Lupton Stadium.
Odell has played in 21 NCAA postseason games, most on the team along with shortstop Keaton Jones.
He was part of a group of freshmen that won the first road regional (2012) in TCU history. He was part of a team that didn’t make a postseason the next year. And last season, he was part of the College World Series team.
He knows the routine. Now.
“I’ve said this before, but that whole regional and super regional kind of seemed like a blur, because I don’t feel like I understood the system of the postseason,” he said of his freshman season. “I feel more mature now. Obviously, I am more mature with age. But I feel more experienced.
“Having been here for four years, I have an understanding of how the whole thing works and the strategy. That has allowed me to be more patient on offense, and also on defense, and make the routine plays.”
Odell has become a different player since the regular season and conference tournament ended. As recently as late April, Schlossnagle was talking about how he hoped a big hit here or there would spark Odell’s confidence.
Last week, the team took its lead from the 6-foot-1, left-handed hitter.
“He’s got a lot of fire behind him in the postseason,” Alexander said. “Being a senior now, he doesn’t want to go out on a bad note. Honestly, it’s a lot of fun to watch.”
Carlos Mendez, 817-390-7760
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 Monday, ESPN, if necessary