Morrison picks up first postseason win as TCU rocks LSU in Omaha opener

TCU catcher Evan Skoug holds up the ball after tagging out LSU second baseman Jared Foster, who was thrown out at home by Horned Frogs center fielder Cody Jones.
TCU catcher Evan Skoug holds up the ball after tagging out LSU second baseman Jared Foster, who was thrown out at home by Horned Frogs center fielder Cody Jones. AP

It was the College World Series, against the No. 1-ranked team in the country, and TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle leaned back and relaxed.

Why? Because Preston Morrison was on the mound.

“He’s a rocking-chair pitcher,” Schlossnagle said. “That means I can sit back in the rocking chair and watch him go.”

Morrison, the senior right-hander who leads TCU in all-time starts and innings pitched, never gave Schlossnagle a reason to get up Sunday, allowing just one run on five hits in seven innings to lead the Horned Frogs to a 10-3 victory against LSU at TD Ameritrade Park.

Connor Wanhanen drove in three runs, Dane Steinhagen and Derek Odell each had two RBIs, and Big 12 Player of the Year Cody Jones threw out a runner at home and scored three runs as TCU (50-13) advanced to a winners’ bracket game against Vanderbilt or Cal State Fullerton on Tuesday night.

The run support provided the first postseason victory of Morrison’s career. He came in 0-3 with five no-decisions in postseason play.

“I think the most important thing for me is just getting another step closer to our ultimate goal, which is the national championship,” Morrison said. “But as far as their lineup, they’re a good lineup and I had to adjust a little bit after that one-run inning.

“They were kind of going after me earlier in the count than we had planned for. We had to make the adjustment, and it worked out, I guess.”

Morrison (12-3) ran into trouble only once, when back-to-back singles opened the fourth inning. Two groundouts advanced the runners, including one to score a run, but Morrison finished the inning with a fly ball — three outs that began a string of 12 consecutive to finish his start.

“You’re looking at a TCU hall of famer, and I think a guy that can pitch in the big leagues,” Schlossnagle said. “I have no doubt about that. ... He’s always going to throw strikes. He’s going to give you a chance.

“If he keeps the ball down and we play defense behind him, he’s just awful tough to beat because he’s not going to beat himself.”

Morrison did keep the ball down, and the Frogs did play defense behind him — error-free, in fact, for the 28th time this season (25-3 record in such games).

The highlight defensive play belonged to Jones. With two outs in the third inning and the game scoreless, the senior center fielder threw out LSU’s Jared Foster at home, trying to score on Jake Fraley’s single.

“He makes that throw so many times in practice,” Morrison said. “Just to see it in the game is a big moment, especially to cut that run down and keep momentum from shifting over. It gives you a little lift when your defense goes out there and makes a top-10 play.

“But for us, it was just a routine play, honestly.”

But considering LSU starter Jared Poche’ had been perfect through the first three innings, it looked like runs would be hard to come by. So the throw and the block of the plate by freshman catcher Evan Skoug resonated.

“Ninety-nine out of 100 times a runner scores on that ball,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “And somehow, he didn’t score this time. Their outfielder made a perfect throw, their catcher made a good tag, blocked the plate, and we weren’t able to score.

“And the turnaround was so immediate, it spiraled out of control there.”

Indeed, Poche’ began the next inning with two throwing errors to first base, and the Frogs drove them home for a 2-0 lead.

In the fifth, a wild pitch and another error helped along a four-run inning. With the bases loaded, Jones reached on a fielding error by third baseman Conner Hale for a 3-1 lead. Jeremie Fagnan followed with a hit-by-pitch for a 4-1 lead, and then Wanhanen’s single made it 6-1.

By then, the rocking chair was in full swing.

Morrison finished the game at only 89 pitches, leaving him available for a Friday game if the Frogs get that far. (A win Tuesday night puts them in a Friday matchup for a spot in the championship series; a loss means they’d have to win Thursday to reach Friday’s game).

Morrison dropped his postseason ERA to 2.41 in nine starts for TCU. He is 1-3 with 47 strikeouts and 15 walks (none Sunday) in 59 2/3 postseason innings for the Frogs.

“He’s pitched great in the postseason throughout his entire career,” Schlossnagle said. “He just hasn’t had a whole lot to show for it because when you’re in the postseason, you’re facing another great pitcher.

“He’s pitched deep into games, including last week into the 10th inning. So I’m just excited to see him get a chance to pitch again today. I didn’t want him to go deep in the game. I just wanted him to be as fresh as he possibly can be the next time we need him.”

There is a good chance there will be a next time. Morrison himself made that possible.

Carlos Mendez, 817-390-7407

Twitter: @calexmendez

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