Gil LeBreton

TCU grounds crew helped Frogs seize control of NCAA regional

As coach Jim Schlossnagle walked to the mound in the ninth inning to take out starter Jared Janczak, the knowledgeable crowd at TCU rose to give the sophomore pitcher a lusty and deserving ovation.

But the audience at Lupton Stadium left out another standing-O: the ballpark grounds crew.

How did this game ever get played?

Who squeegeed the outfield? Who swabbed the warning track?

Who parted the waters, so that Janczak and the TCU Horned Frogs could even take the field Sunday night and defeat Virginia 5-1 to seize control of the winners bracket of their NCAA baseball regional?

Yes, it rained again Sunday afternoon on the TCU campus. It rained buckets worth, overflowing an already saturated outfield and throwing in occasional rumbling thunder for effect.

Go home, TCU officials told the huddled masses. Go eat, nap and, hopefully, the Frogs and Virginia Cavaliers would reconvene at 9:04 p.m. and finally play ball.

It was still raining cats and dogs — cavs and frogs? — when they announced the five-hour delay. The outfield grass had been turned into Lake Schlossnagle.

Why not just call it off? Because baseball, especially NCAA tournament baseball.

Players are antsy to play. Coaches are anxious about staying on schedule and not overloading their pitching staffs. NCAA bean counters are worried about having to pay for an extra night of the teams’ hotel rooms.

Because this is not the Frogs’ first NCAA rodeo, however, Schlossnagle knew what to do.

“We actually all got out of here,” said TCU catcher Evan Skoug, “got something to eat, went back to our rooms or houses, and just kind of got away from it. Kind of a restart to our day, because we were so close to getting ready.

“Instead of being around here and thinking about baseball, we got away, ate with our families, got a quick nap in and started getting back in our game mindset.”

When the game finally began shortly after 9 p.m., Skoug and the Frogs quickly jumped to a 4-0 lead, and Janczak took it from there.

But Schlossnagle knew who the night’s real heroes were.

“First of all, I want to thank our grounds crew and everybody involved in giving us the opportunity to play,” he said when it all ended, sometime past 12:30 Monday morning. “A lot of credit goes to those guys.”

They have their own Twitter account, as it turns out: @TCU_Dirtbags

After three days of mopping up raindrops, how they mustered the energy to fix the field Sunday was remarkable. Can I vote for the @TCU_Dirtbags for tournament MVPs?

On their Twitter timeline, you’ll see photos of what their weekend was like. Guys with rakes and squeegees. Guys in their best Shawshank Redemption poses. Guys catching a quick nap Sunday morning in their dusty lair beneath the Lupton grandstands.

At around 8 p.m. Sunday, they tweeted, “Field has seen better days but she’s ready to go.”

And so were Janczak and the Frogs.

The Belton native hadn’t thrown more than 78 pitches in an outing since returning from a four-week injury layoff. He was at the 87-pitch mark when Schlossnagle said he let pitching coach Kirk Saarloos talk him into letting Janczak start the ninth.

Closer Durbin Feltman bailed out the decision with his best relief performance of the season — three strikeouts, mostly laced with fastballs that reached 97 mph.

In the end, the hard day’s night wasn’t wasted.

But Schlossnagle made sure to tap the Frogs’ brakes.

“We haven’t won anything,” he said in the wee hours of an NCAA tournament Monday morning. “We’ve won a ballgame. We haven’t won a championship.

“We’re going to feel good about it for a little bit, and then what we earned was rest. We didn’t earn a championship. We earned rest.”

The @TCU_Dirtbags could certainly use the latter part.

Gil LeBreton: @gilebreton

Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram