For five weeks and two days, at just the right time of the year, TCU played its best baseball.
It will always stick with Evan Skoug.
“It’s something that I’ll never forget for the rest of my life,” he said.
Why would he? From May 15 to June 21, the Horned Frogs won 16 out of 18 games and reached the semifinals of the College World Series. They won their second Big 12 tournament title along the way, hosted and swept a home NCAA regional and eliminated fourth-seeded Texas A&M in a super regional on its field, earning a third straight trip to Omaha.
Not until Friday and Saturday night at TD Ameritrade Park did the Frogs — who started the year with almost an entirely new roster — finally stumble with back-to-back losses to Coastal Carolina that stopped the roll and knocked them out. They finished 49-18, just shy of their first championship finals appearance and third 50-win season.
“Coming to the College World Series two years in a row, playing and winning a Super Regional at A&M, playing another regional and winning a regional at home — those are things you’re not going to forget,” Skoug said.
Skoug, a sophomore catcher, will be back. So will as many as seven other regulars in the lineup, and much of the pitching staff.
But center fielder Dane Steinhagen won’t.
The senior from Beaumont closed his TCU career with three hits in Saturday night’s 7-5 loss. He homered for the only run in Friday night’s 4-1 loss.
After starting 56 games in left field last year, he started all 67 game in center this year after the loss of Nolan Brown to injury and hit .313 with eight home runs and 51 RBIs, tied for second on the team.
“Dane was a support-type role player last year; he played every game, but he wasn’t asked to do a whole bunch,” Schlossnagle said. “For that guy to have the season he did and the home runs, it’s phenomenal. We’re going to look like crazy to find somebody to give him a chance to keep playing in professional baseball. He’s exemplified everything that our program is about.”
Steinhagen, too, will remember the run to Omaha.
“We were playing really good, solid baseball,” he said. “All the way through. We got together as a team many times before we made that run and said that we can do this. We lost a few series in the year, but so what? We just kept battling all year. And a few of us, the team leaders, a few more guys on the team, we came together, too, and said what we needed to say to the team and to get us going and a few motivation things.
“And we played good, solid baseball, offensively and defensively. And we were able to get a bunch of wins throughout that stretch.”
Asked to sum up the season, Schlossnagle hesitated.
“It’s hard to — we had so many new players going into the season,” he said. “So you just didn’t really know what you were going to get.”
He said the injury to pitcher Mitchell Traver set the pitching plans back and put more of a load on pitcher-DH Luken Baker and others. He credited pitching coach Kirk Saarloos for “kind of piecemealing it together and getting us to pitch at our very best at the most important time.”
Schlossnagle described a “lull in the middle” after a 22-5 start that had TCU lagging behind Texas Tech and Oklahoma State in the Big 12 race.
“Tech was outplaying us like crazy, and so was Oklahoma State,” he said. “But I still felt like our best baseball was ahead of us, and we had to overcome some things, which every team that plays this deep in the season has to overcome.”
Schlossnagle said his players “stayed true to the Horned Frog mentality and toughness” as the postseason arrived.
“We ended up playing well down the stretch,” he said. “Got a regional at home, which was huge to be able to do that again, especially with the investment our university made in our ballpark in the last 12 months. And then an epic Super Regional against a great team and program like A&M.”
“I’m not ready to reflect on those things, but you asked me,” he said. “I’m just disappointed that we didn’t win a national title, because that’s what we want to do.”