TCU

How TCU went from May slump to semifinals of College World Series

TCU’s Elliott Barzilli slides at home plate to score on a throwing error in the fourth inning of a College World Series game against Texas Tech on Sunday. The Horned Frogs won 5-3 en route to their first 2-0 start in Omaha.
TCU’s Elliott Barzilli slides at home plate to score on a throwing error in the fourth inning of a College World Series game against Texas Tech on Sunday. The Horned Frogs won 5-3 en route to their first 2-0 start in Omaha. AP

TCU baseball is in the national semifinals.

That didn’t sound possible a month ago.

As pitcher Brian Howard put it, “There was a point this year where things did not look good for the Horned Frogs.”

When they had dropped the first two games of a series at Baylor, hovered around third in the Big 12 standings and were 11-9 in their previous 20, the only semifinals the Frogs might have been thinking about were the ones in Oklahoma City at the conference tournament.

Hosting an NCAA regional? They were just crossing their fingers.

Super Regional? Really thinking big.

College World Series? Let’s tap the brakes.

Howard smiled.

“I don’t even know,” he said, asked what he thought the ceiling was for this TCU team a month ago, following a pitchers’ meeting after an 0-2 start to the Baylor series. “I didn’t even think about it. All I was worried about was coming out and getting a win against Baylor, a team that had beaten us two nights in a row and we felt like we didn’t play the way we should have.”

The Horned Frogs coach cautions that a 2-0 start at the College World Series is not everything, remembering that his 2010 TCU team almost made it back from the elimination bracket.

Jared Janczak made his first start the next day, Luken Baker homered for the first time in 30 games, and Durbin Feltman won in relief as TCU won the series finale 7-3. That began a run of 16 victories in 18 games that has landed the Frogs’ matchup at 7 p.m. Friday against Texas Tech or Coastal Carolina, with two chances to win one game for a spot in the championship series next week.

TCU (49-16) has never been that far, nor been in better position to get there.

TCU has two chances to win one game for a spot in the College World Series finals. The Horned Frogs have never reached the best-of-three championship series.

“I thought we were talented enough,” coach Jim Schlossnagle said. “I felt offensively, we were good enough. A lot of things have to happen in the regional and super regional for you to do it.”

For one, Janczak entered the rotation and excelled. The redshirt freshman has gone five innings or more every time, winning the regular-season finale against Kansas State to give the Frogs a five-game winning streak into the conference tournament and Game 1 of the Super Regional at Texas A&M.

Two, Howard began dominating. He beat Texas to put TCU in the Big 12 tournament championship game, Arizona State to win the Fort Worth Regional, Texas A&M in Game 3 for the trip to Omaha and Coastal Carolina on Tuesday — a postseason run of four starts where he is 4-0 with a 1.35 ERA, seven walks and 29 strikeouts in 26  2/3 innings.

Three, the bullpen is unscored on in seven of the eight NCAA tournament games. Feltman has a win and three saves in that stretch. Ryan Burnett has won and recorded his first career save this week.

And fourth, Baker began his power spree with eight home runs in the next 18 games, including a go-ahead blast in the ninth inning that won the CWS opener against Texas Tech.

It must have been a pretty good meeting in Waco.

We had an idea of where we wanted to be and how we were going to get there, Especially as a pitching staff, because that offense has been electric all year.

TCU pitcher Brian Howard

“We had an idea of where we wanted to be and how we were going to get there,” Howard said. “Especially as a pitching staff, because that offense has been electric all year.”

What was said?

To stop thinking about what’s missing.

“We lost arguably the greatest pitcher in college baseball history in Preston Morrison, and Trey Teakell who was lights-out, and Alex Young who was the 42nd overall draft pick — you can go on and on — and that was a little bit of a crutch for us,” Howard said. “We were using it to say, ‘Well how can you expect us to be as good as we were the last two years without those guys?’ We had a meeting where that came out, and we said, ‘Why are we comparing ourselves to last year when this year’s all that matters?’ 

2.74ERA for TCU from May 15, the finale of the Baylor series, to June 12, the finale of the College Station Super Regional. The Horned Frogs were 15-2 in that stretch.

Schlossnagle said he doesn’t remember anything in particular about that second night in Waco, except that instead of going over the scouting report with the team the next day, he said, “We’re not doing that today.”

He told the team instead: “This is way more about us and how we play, and this is going to define us one way or another. Everybody has their story, and we have a chance to write a story and have this be part of it.”

What’s happened since has not really surprised him.

“I’ve been around long enough to know at some point you play really good baseball, a really good stretch of it,” Schlossnagle said. “We did it early in the Houston College Classic. I felt like it was going to come back to us at some point. It always has, except for one year at TCU. And so here it is.”

In the national semifinals.

Carlos Mendez: 817-390-7760, @calexmendez

The Horned Frogs played Tuesday night in Omaha in front of 'our favorite person in the world,' Micah Ahern, a 7-year-old cancer patient they have known for three years.

College World Series

TCU vs. Texas Tech or Coastal Carolina

7 p.m. Friday, ESPN

Texas Tech xx, Coastal Carolina xx

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