Gil LeBreton

TCU’s Omaha Bound again as part of college baseball’s elite

It’s a gold card list, the manifest of consecutive visitors to Omaha and the College World Series.

Miami. Stanford. Texas. Arizona State. And five more who have managed to run the thorniest gauntlet in college sports.

Yet, now comes TCU into that elite group, boldly going for a fourth year in a row.

The return ticket came with fireworks Sunday. And yet another masterful postseason pitching performance by senior Brian Howard.

And when it was over, as the fireworks lit up the sky beyond center field, coach Jim Schlossnagle’s Horned Frogs didn’t seem to know whether to assemble the traditional body pile on the infield — a Frog pile? — or to act like they’ve been here and done that.

They have, you know. But the Frog pile won anyway.

You can’t be jaded about going to the NCAA College World Series. The ballcap atop Schlossnagle’s head after the game helped to prove that.

It looked like one of those mesh trucker’s caps, with a big black panel in the front and giant white letters that read in all caps, “OMAHA BOUND.”

“I’m just really excited to get one of these hats,” Schlossnagle said, wearing his jauntily.

Omaha Bound, indeed.

It was July 9, 2003, when then-athletic director Eric Hyman named Schlossnagle as head coach. TCU’s postseason history at the time consisted of five regional games, four of which had been defeats.

With Sunday’s 8-1 Super Regional win over Missouri State, however, TCU raised its postseason record at Lupton Stadium to 26-5.

Ten schools in College World Series history have made it into the Omaha field at least four years in a row. The list includes some of the pedigree names in college baseball.

Missouri State coach Keith Guttin paid the Frogs a high compliment, when he said after Sunday’s game, “They’re just an excellent collection of arms and very disciplined hitters. They’re a challenge.

“I haven’t seen all the other teams in person, but I think they’ll be very competitive.”

The Bears, with five .300 hitters in their lineup, scored only three runs in the two games. The Frogs outhit them, 19-10.

“Big Game Howie,” Schlossnagle said, bestowing a new nickname on Howard.

The cap and the name both fit.

In nine NCAA tournament appearances over his TCU career, Howard has pitched 46 innings, struck out 50 and allowed only 27 hits while posting a 1.96 ERA.

More than the numbers, though, he’s been at the center of some of the milestone moments in TCU’s climb into the college baseball elite.

As a sophomore in 2014, Howard pitched four key shutout innings in the epic 22-inning regional win over Sam Houston State. A year ago, he went seven innings and allowed only two hits in the Super Regional clincher at Texas A&M.

“He’ll go down as one of the greatest big-game pitchers TCU has ever had,” Schlossnagle said.

“The bigger the game, the more ready he’s going to be. I love all our pitchers, but when it’s on the line, you want ‘Big Game Howie’ out there.”

When Schlossnagle walked from the dugout to replace Howard in the eighth inning Sunday, the appreciative crowd at Lupton Stadium rose to its feet with resonating applause.

Schlossnagle gave Howard, who stands 6-foot-9, a hug, and the senior ran to the dugout for the final time at Lupton.

More big games are to come, they both know. They are “OMAHA BOUND,” like the cap said.

They know the route.

Gil LeBreton: @gilebreton

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