They labored through last year’s Omaha disappointment.
They learned. They waited. They grew a year older, a year wiser.
They fortified themselves for the chance to redeem themselves in the second game of their latest College World Series journey. The most important game in TCU baseball history, one could easily argue.
And then one pitch spoiled the night.
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One swing of Vanderbilt first baseman Zander Wiel’s bat.
One pitch of the 92 mostly sparkling ones that Horned Frogs left-hander Alex Young delivered Tuesday night.
Wiel’s solo home run in the seventh inning, spanked down the left-field line for Vandy’s first hit of the night, gave the Commodores a 1-0 victory in a College World Series classic.
Yes, a classic. Young and Vanderbilt’s Philip Pfeifer matched zeroes and swings-and-misses all night long.
Young alone had 11 strikeouts through the first five innings. He was working on a no-hitter when Wiel stepped to the plate to begin the top of the seventh.
And as Twitter pointed out — amidst a purple mushroom cloud — that’s when ESPN dugout girl Kaylee Hartung, interviewing TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle, ignored 175 years of baseball protocol and asked him about Young’s no-hitter.
Schlossnagle immediately rolled his eyes.
“And on the next pitch, Wiel hit the home run,” Schlossnagle remarked later.
He wasn’t complaining, mind you. He didn’t seem angry, nor was he threatening to call Charter and cancel his ESPN.
But have a clue, Kaylee Hartung. In baseball, there is no superstition more sacred than the one that decrees that you never speak about a no-hitter in progress — especially, logic should say, to the head coach of said pitcher in his own dugout.
The baseball gods responded in kind. From what I read — much of which can’t be printed in a family newspaper — Hartung might want to put her Twitter account on ice for a few days, weeks or maybe months.
But so went the night for the Horned Frogs.
On what began as a pivotal night in TCU’s College World Series quest, Alex Young, a junior from Hawthorn Woods, Ill., had responded by pitching the game of his life.
Only in the third inning did Young really taste any trouble. A passed ball on a strikeout and his own wide throw to first on a bunt helped put Vandy runners in scoring position.
But with the bases loaded, the Frogs lefty struck out Rhett Wiseman and Dansby Swanson. The latter, the Commodores’ shortstop, was the No. 1 pick in the recent MLB draft.
Young was eventually lifted with two outs in the eighth, finishing with only three hits allowed, one walk and a stadium record-tying 12 strikeouts.
“You can nit-pick the game apart like crazy,” Schlossnagle said. “Actually, seeing the video, I didn’t think it was a bad pitch that Alex threw. It was down, a little bit more in. I think it ran into his bat path.
“Not to take anything away from him — he’s the one who hit it out of the park, but it wasn’t an elevated pitch. Alex makes that pitch a thousand times out of a thousand, and usually it goes our way.”
As well as Young pitched, however, his performance was nearly matched by Pfeifer and reliever Kyle Wright. The Frogs were 0 for 9 with runners in scoring position.
For TCU, the second game defeat was their third in as many tries at the College World Series, and it brought back memories of last June, when the Frogs struggled to score runs in a 15-inning loss to Virginia. In that game, TCU went 13 innings without scoring.
A year older, a year more girded for the tournament’s test, the Frogs felt they had their World Series checklist covered.
They still feel that way, Schlossnagle assured. Now, instead, they will have to defeat LSU in an elimination game Thursday and then defeat Vanderbilt twice to get to the final series — three victories in a row.
“I think they’ll handle it the way they’ve handled everything else all year long,” Schlossnagle said. “The way they handled losing a game in the regional, the way we handled losing a game in the Super Regional.
“They’ll be ready to play. That doesn’t guarantee success at all. But in 25 years, I’ve never trusted a team more than this team.
“I believe in them, and I still believe we’re going to be hanging around here before this thing is said and done.”
Coming up Thursday ... another “most important game in TCU baseball history.” One pitch Tuesday led to that.
Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697