TCU took the drama out of Sunday’s Game 2 of a Super Regional series against Missouri State, plating four runs in the first three innings and cruising to an 8-1 victory behind Brian Howard’s 11 strikeouts and Evan Skoug’s two-run home run.
The result? Another trip to Omaha, where TCU has been before but has yet to play for the championship. Last season, the Frogs got farther than ever, reaching the semifinals.
Here are five thoughts as the work begins Friday with the first practice at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb. The opener is scheduled for 6 p.m. Sunday against Florida.
1. TCU is heading to Omaha with elite pitching that can beat elite hitting. The Horned Frogs have faced five of the country’s best hitters in the past two weekends — Virginia’s Adam Haseley and Pavin Smith, Dallas Baptist’s Austin Listi and Missouri State’s Jake Burger and Jeremy Eierman. The damage? Three hits, a home run, five walks and one run batted in. Eierman was 2-for-6 with a home run and two walks. The rest, 1-for-17, a walk and five strikeouts. TCU’s best pitchers — Jared Janczak, Brian Howard, Sean Wymer and Durbin Feltman — won head to head, convincingly, against the opposition’s best hitters. “Excellent collection of arms,” is how Missouri State coach Keith Guttin put it Sunday night.
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2. TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle does not avoid the word Omaha. It’s easily spotted in the baseball facilities at Lupton Stadium. Immediately after the Horned Frogs clinched a fourth straight trip, he brought up something else about Omaha — the Frogs have yet to come home with the trophy. For some coaches, it may not be standard practice to point out that your team hasn’t won it all. Not Schlossnagle. He put it out there following the Super Regional title celebration. “Couldn’t be more excited to win, get back to Omaha,” he said. “See if we can’t hang around just a little bit longer than the last couple of years.”
3. Do not underestimate the value of playing at Lupton Stadium. TCU is 26-5 in postseason games at home, including nine straight, a streak that began with the 16-inning win against Texas A&M in the 2015 Super Regional. “We talked to our team the whole season about how every single game we play during the regular season has tremendous value,” Schlossnagle said. “Whether it be a weekend series in conference or if it’s a great nonconference opponent or a midweek game against a team that maybe doesn’t have a great RPI. Because you’re trying to build a résumé to give yourself the best chance to advance.”
4. TCU is only the 10th school to make four or more consecutive trips to the College World Series. It wasn’t lost on Brian Howard or Elliott Barzilli, two of the Frogs’ eight seniors. It will be Howard’s fourth trip, Barzilli’s third. “There are other teams that just don’t get to experience what I’ve gotten to experience. There are players who don’t get to experience what I’ve gotten to experience,” Howard said. Barzilli transferred to TCU after a season at Georgia Tech. “That’s why I wanted to come here,” he said. “I had a lot of options, going JUCO or Division I. I wanted to come here to win and experience that.”
5. TCU continues to play with the stylized “M” on its caps in memory of Micah Ahern, an Arlington boy who died last summer of cancer at age 7 three years after signing an honorary baseball scholarship with the Frogs. Sunday after the game, they presented his father with a 2016 College World Series ring. “I told him, ‘This is Micah’s ring, but we’re giving it to you,’ ” Schlossnagle said. “And his mom got a pendant. His dad brought a really sweet picture, framed, of Micah being with us. And I know they had that up in the stands. We miss him every day.”