TCU got a lift from a visit at the College World Series by Micah Ahern, the 7-year-old Arlington cancer patient who has become a part of the baseball program in the past three years, in time to watch Tuesday’s victory against Coastal Carolina.
“Honestly, it was awesome, just him being there,” reliever Ryan Burnett said. “Just puts a smile on your face. Lets you forget about everything. Just go out and play baseball, have fun.”
Micah and his mother, Linda, made the trip after a family vacation. She posted on social media two weeks ago that the family was discontinuing treatment of the neuroblastoma that has affected Micah since he was a year old. He has had many surgeries and procedures since becoming part of the team.
Monday before the trip, Micah’s mother also posted a request for prayer to alleviate spine pain he was experiencing so he could enjoy the trip to Omaha.
We say it a lot, but it’s hard to even give everyone outside of our program an idea of how much he really means to us.
TCU pitcher Brian Howard, on Micah Ahern
“When you see the smile on his face, it just makes it easy to smile yourself,” pitcher Brian Howard said. “And he puts you in a good mood immediately when you see him. And he’s just such a huge part of this team. We say it a lot, but it’s hard to even give everyone outside of our program an idea of how much he really means to us.”
The team staged a scholarship signing for Micah in 2014, and he has a locker in the clubhouse at Lupton Stadium. The team met him in 2013 through a Massachussetts organization called Team IMPACT that matches children suffering from chronic or life-threatening illnesses with college teams.
“He had a big smile on his face,” designated hitter Luken Baker said. “He was there for our team meal before the game. He was happy to be around.”
On its website, Team IMPACT says, ‘The child gains great strength, camaraderie and support and the student-athletes are taught lessons about courage, resiliency and life perspective they can’t learn in a classroom.’
TCU defeated Coastal Carolina 6-1 with Micah at the game, but coach Jim Schlossnagle stressed that Micah wasn’t there to inspire the Frogs. But he embraced the effect of Micah’s presence.
“This is honestly the most energy I’ve seen him have over an extended period of time,” he said. “He was full of himself all day. He was enjoying the attention, which he’s more than deserved. And it was just good to see him and have him be around the guys. And anything that brightens his day has just been awesome. So to see a smile on his face, and to see his mom — she was in a great mood — it’s just great. It’s just great having him around.”
Howard won his third consecutive NCAA tournament start, but it was his least effective of the three, pitching coach Kirk Saarloos said.
“He didn’t have his cutter at all,” Saarloos said. “He got by leaning on some experience, really, being able to navigate his way around without having his No. 1 go-to pitch. He threw a couple more changeups than he usually does. The fastball command was decent. That was more on guts and experience.”
Howard is 3-0 with an 0.87 ERA in 20 2/3 innings in three NCAA postseason starts against Arizona State, Texas A&M and Coastal Carolina. He has allowed 12 hits, five walks and struck out 24.
“He didn’t have his best stuff,” Schlossnagle said. “That’s a sign of a good pitcher. Because everybody is going to win when you have your best stuff, and everybody is going to lose when you have your worst. When you’re just OK, that separates the good ones from the average ones.”
In two games at the College World Series, TCU relief pitchers are 1-0 with a 1.29 ERA and two saves.
Ryan Burnett has made two appearances, and Brian Trieglaff and closer Durbin Feltman have each made one, combining to allow one earned run in seven innings with nine strikeouts and one walk.
“Right now, we’re 4-for-4 in the two games on the guy that comes out of the bullpen getting the first guy out,” coach Jim Schlossnagle said. “And that’s important in any game, but it’s really important here, especially with great offenses like Texas Tech and Coastal Carolina have, to be able to stop innings.”
None of the six inherited runners in the two games has scored against the TCU bullpen.
Through the first eight games — with every team having played two games — TCU led the CWS field with a .254 average, 11 runs, 18 hits, three home runs and was tied for the fewest strikeouts with nine.
Luken Baker leads all hitters with a .625 average, five hits, 11 total bases, three runs scored, four RBIs and two home runs.