Gil LeBreton

Omaha, Omaha! ‘Final Four’ Frogs reach for the stars

Workers clear beach balls from the outfield in the third inning of an NCAA College World Series baseball game between Coastal Carolina and Texas Tech in Omaha, Neb., Thursday. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
Workers clear beach balls from the outfield in the third inning of an NCAA College World Series baseball game between Coastal Carolina and Texas Tech in Omaha, Neb., Thursday. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik) AP

For the enterprising TCU baseball team, it’s time to boldly go where no Horned Frogs have gone before.

Dismissed as a Big 12 also-ran as recently as the middle of May, TCU stands one victory away from its first appearance in a College World Series finals.

The Frogs are loose. They are confident. They’ve been playing, you could say, with a certain panache.

And why not? In the Las Vegas vernacular, they’ve been playing with the house’s money for the past two weeks.

When pitcher Jared Janczak of Belton – a redshirt freshman – took the mound in College Station two weeks ago and defeated the Texas Aggies in Game 1 of the NCAA Super Regional, the chips were doubled.

Coach Jim Schlossnagle knew that he had his two most experienced starters ready to pitch, if needed, the next two days.

On Tuesday night junior Brian Howard and reliever Ryan Burnett held Coastal Carolina to six hits and a single run in a 6-1 TCU victory.

As in Aggieland, the Frogs will have two chances to get the job done.

Again, they’re playing with the house’s money.

A few late-night, early-matin observations are in order after Coastal’s Thursday victory over Texas Tech:

1, College athletic departments spend millions and millions of dollars trying to find basketball coaches that will take them to the NCAA Final Four.

Baseball doesn’t have a Final Four, per se. But consider the unsanctioned semantics.

When four teams are left in the eight-team College World Series field, do the math. There’s your Final Four.

Under Schlossnagle, therefore, TCU has been to three baseball equivalents of the Final Four in seven seasons – 2010, 2015 and now this one.

Three Final Fours!

That’s as many as basketball coaches Phog Allen, Joe B. Hall, Eddie Sutton and John Thompson all went to.

That’s the level at which Schlossnagle has his baseball program percolating.

And, you may have heard, this was supposed to be a rebuilding season.

2, The modern confines of TD Ameritrade Park, which replaced legendary Rosenblatt Stadium as the home of the College World Series in 2011, are hardly confining at all.

Broad concourses abound, as opposed to the coal-miner concession tunnel experience at Rosenblatt.

The grandstand seats are roomier. The dugouts and bullpens are roomier. The team clubhouses have as much elbow room as a suite at the Marriott.

One tradition, however, made the trip downtown with World Series flair:

Beach balls.

Yes, a random beach ball tossed onto the field in the middle of a major league game can be annoying. At TD Ameritrade Park, though, there is a 22-member grounds crew dispatched with 911 briskness whenever an inflatable item sails from the outfield bleachers.

In Thursday’s Texas Tech-Coastal Carolina game, an entire section of the bleachers stood in unison – a flash mob? -- in the top of the third inning and carpet-bombed left field with inflated beach balls, sharks, a Nemo, two Shamus and a blow-up surf board.

Dozens – perhaps as many as 100 – inflatables rained onto the outfield grass, prompting the 22-member grounds crew to rush into action. Some of them actually wielded knives and punctured the beach balls right on the spot.


The dozens that they didn’t pop were simply tossed into a pile in the Texas Tech bullpen, which soon began to look like the world’s scruffiest daycare center.

3, Having lost to both TCU and Coastal Carolina, Texas Tech coach Tim Tadlock was asked to handicap Friday night’s showdown between the Frogs and Team Teal.

"Well, Mitchell Traver was pretty tough," Tadlock said of TCU’s expected starter. "I mean, that angle is pretty tough. If he's throwing the ball in the strike zone, coming from 6-foot-9 is really tough."

The Tech coach said he’s been impressed with both lineups.

"Both teams can apply a lot of pressure on you offensively," Tadlock said. "They both run a lot. I think [TCU catcher Evan] Skoug will probably have a say in that.

"It should be a good baseball game. They both are playing at a really high level right now. Coastal going into Baton Rouge and winning two pretty much says enough there. And TCU went into A&M and won two out of three."

Coastal Carolina coach Gary Gilmore would not commit Thursday to starting Andrew Beckwith against the Frogs. Beckwith pitched a 98-pitch complete game last Sunday and defeated Florida 2-1.

"We'll see," Gilmore said. "His makeup is the kind that I may have to fight him to not pitch him.

"I may have to try to figure out how to steal two or three innings, four or five innings, before we have to go to him. None of the guys I have in the bullpen have really worked the back end of games, either."

Beckwith could be a definite challenge for the TCU lineup. He throws both submarine style and over-the-top, sometimes switching during the same at-bat.

His fastball velocity, at best, sits in the high 80s. He changes speeds, adding and subtracting, and induces a high percentage of ground balls.

"There’s no way to simulate it," Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. "There’s no one in our league who throws like that."

Coastal Carolina’s All-America reliever, Mike Morrison, threw four-plus innings and 83 pitches in the Thursday night win over the Red Raiders. Gilmore said he doesn’t expect to use Morrison on Friday.

Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram