They know this place.
They know the outfield grass. They know the infield dirt. They know how long it takes to walk from the clubhouse at TD Ameritrade Park to the dugout.
TCU has been here. And when your program is playing in the College World Series for the third year in a row, you can walk with a swagger.
Or, as we saw Tuesday night, you can boldly throw to third base to nail a runner trying to advance from second. You can throw down to second base on an attempted double steal.
It was Game 2 for the Horned Frogs, and they knew. TCU’s 6-1 victory over Coastal Carolina puts them one win away from their first CWS finals.
In TCU’s three previous trips to the College World Series, the Frogs won their opener, only to stumble in Game 2.
Coach Jim Schlossnagle doesn’t hide the fact that he considers a team’s second contest “the most important game of the tournament.”
What could have been anxieties Tuesday night against Coastal Carolina, however, instead seemed to infuse the Frogs with confidence.
They know this place. Maybe not these Frogs with so many new faces from a year ago.
But as Schlossnagle put it, “Most of our lineup hasn't been here before, but I think they get it from the program. We spend a lot of time in the mental game. We invest in it financially, we invest in it with time, and we talk about these things all year long.
“We try to put them in situations. And we constantly talk, even in the fall, about how a ground ball hit in the fall at Lupton and a ground ball hit here in June are just ground balls. The only thing different is the environment and being able to handle that.”
The Frogs handled it superbly. They were like the guy at the poker table who knows his hand is stacked.
And in the Frogs’ case, maybe it is. They have their Nordic warrior, Luken Baker.
On Baker’s first at-bat Tuesday, the freshman from Spring powered an outside pitch by Alex Cunningham over the right field wall for his second home run in as many games.
Baker delivered two more hits, both singles, in his next two trips to the plate, and the Frogs built a 4-0 lead over the Chanticleers.
For TCU this was rare air, a quasi-comfortable lead into the middle innings of their second College World Series game.
They responded with the aforementioned swagger. Starting pitcher Brian Howard remained unruffled, even after allowing the lead-off Coastal Carolina batter to reach base in three consecutive innings. And when he was lifted with two outs and two Chanticleers on base in the sixth inning, lefty reliever Ryan Burnett came in snuffed the threat.
Burnett faced 10 batters in his three-plus innings and retired all 10.
“I thought Burnett was the story of the game,” Schlossnagle said.
Catcher Evan Skoug was likewise nonplussed by a lineup that began the night with 107 stolen bases. Skoug fired a rocket to catch Anthony Marks stealing to end the first inning, and then brashly threw down to second base to get Michael Paez and end the third.
The play loomed even larger as TCU’s confidence seemed to grow. Coastal’s Kevin Woodall was on third base when Paez broke for second and the Chants got exactly what they wanted — for Skoug to make the throw to second base.
Paez kept running, however, and was tagged out before Woodall even reached the plate.
Coastal Carolina remained scoreless until Howard tired in the sixth inning.
The Frogs know this place. Having learned their Game 2 lessons, their ease under the College World Series spotlight was apparent.
Throws were crisp. At-bats were patient.
Coastal Carolina, on the other hand, looked a tad skittish, as you would expect from a team making its first Omaha appearance. Starter Cunningham, to name one, was humming along until an error, a walk and a string of grinding TCU plate appearances allowed two runs to score and prompted coach Gary Gilmore to go to the bullpen.
“We’re a better team than what we showed with baserunning and some other things tonight, especially defensively,” Coastal coach Gary Gilmore said. “Everything we did good the other night, we short-circuited tonight.”
Welcome to a Game 2 in Omaha, his old friend Schlossnagle could have told him. Welcome, too, to the expansive, run-sapping environs of TD Ameritrade Park.
“You get down three runs, you feel like you’re down 23 runs, to be very honest with you,” Gilmore said.
Neither the park, nor the CWS spotlight, however, seemed to faze the Horned Frogs. The temptation is to credit Baker, who clearly has gotten into the heads of everyone watching this College World Series.
It’s as if the Frogs know that whatever happens in the other half of the inning, they have the trump card to win out.
They know this College World Series. The TCU program knew what was at stake.
They didn’t hide this time. They swaggered.