Gil LeBreton

TCU baseball hopes to discover magic formula at CWS

The TCU baseball team is back at the College World Series in Omaha for the third consecutive season.
The TCU baseball team is back at the College World Series in Omaha for the third consecutive season. AP

So, what’s the magic formula, TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle was asked?

What’s in the secret sauce that makes one team a winner at the College World Series and sends the other seven teams home?

“Well, I haven’t won it, so ...,” Schlossnagle answered, sheepishly declining to offer any mystical theories.

He has been to the College World Series four times, however, as leader of the Horned Frogs. And as a wise coach once said, if you keep knocking on the door, one day somebody just might answer.

The College World Series that we grew up with, though, the dramatic baseball fortnight that ESPN introduced us to in the 1980s, has changed. There is no more heavy metal college baseball. There is no more Rosenblatt Stadium.

In the 1998 College World Series, both LSU and Southern Cal clubbed 17 home runs, and the safety zealots got scared.

By the time the rule book was rewritten and the bats had been reduced to ashes, runs were scarce. Nobody was executing the Ball Girl Fake Pickoff play, because almost nobody was getting to first base.

UCLA won the 2013 national title without hitting a single home run.

The new baseball, the compromise ball, has helped to dampen some of the outrage, Schlossnagle’s included.

But as for championship formulas, the best that Schlossnagle has come up with goes like this:

“The best team doesn’t always win. It’s the team that’s playing the best.”

Win each pitch, in other words. Win each at-bat and each inning. Win the game at hand.

Do those things and you’ll be knocking on the championship door.

Schlossnagle has repeated his “not the best team” line so much, the TCU players have started to repeat it in every interview.

“At this event, the talent level really evens out,” said TCU pitcher Brian Howard, who is on his third consecutive College World Series team.

“There are teams that are more talented, but the most talented team doesn’t always win. It’s the team that plays the best.”

Yeah, we’ve heard.

TCU needs only to look at last weekend’s upset Super Regional victory at Texas A&M as an example.

“Every team here in Omaha is really good,” Schlossnagle said at the pre-tournament press conference. “But I felt like talent-wise and experience, last weekend in College Station, the other club was much further along than we were.

“But you have to play the games.”

The three previous TCU teams that came to Omaha all took different paths.

The feisty, free-swinging 2010 team won three games here before being eliminated by UCLA one win from the championship series.

Playing in the new stadium, TD Ameritrade Park, in 2014, the Frogs lost a 15-inning, five-hour marathon to Virginia when everything Kevin Cron hit in extra innings died at the warning track.

A year ago, the Frogs beat College World Series blue blood LSU twice, but a 1-0 loss to Vanderbilt put TCU in the losers bracket and it again fell short.

In quest of the winning formula, Schlossnagle sought the advice of ex-South Carolina coach Ray Tanner, who won back-to-back NCAA titles in 2010 and 2011.

“I seek counsel from other guys,” Schlossnagle confessed. “I said, ‘Ray, let me explain how we approach this thing, and you tell me what you think.’

“He said, ‘That’s exactly the way. You’re not doing anything you shouldn’t be doing. The biggest thing is you’ve got to keep the guys in their routine — keep them loose, keep them relaxed.’ 

Schlossnagle uses an hourglass analogy, where he allows the Frogs wider freedom as long as they narrow their focus at the right time.

On Saturday, that meant a morning hitting session, followed by a team picnic in the afternoon.

The Frogs are here for the third straight year, but it was pointed out Friday that this was supposed to be a rebuilding year for TCU. The Frogs, after all, didn’t even win the Big 12 Conference regular season title.

“All it comes down to is who wants to play the best at this most important time of year,” veteran Howard noted.

In the absence of a secret formula, that may have to do.

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