Perhaps more than any other team in the College World Series, LSU has a lineup that can compete with TCU’s No. 1 strength, its pitching.
“I want to play the best team,” TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle said.
Well, in Omaha, that often means LSU — one of the gold standards in college baseball with six national championships and a horde of fans that descend on Nebraska every June, with or without their Tigers.
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“Omaha is different when LSU is there,” Schlossnagle said. “It just is. Normally, it’s not a home-field advantage for any team unless you’re the Cinderella team like we were in 2010. But when they’re there, it’s crazy.”
The scene awaits TCU at 2 p.m. Sunday. The Horned Frogs, an ascending program with back-to-back College World Series appearances and three in the past six seasons, will share the stage at TD Ameritrade Park with a program that has long been leading the way.
Legacy brand vs. new brand.
“Our brand, obviously, is in a growing stage still and trying to get to that point,” Schlossnagle said. “We have a long way to go. When you win five national championships in 10 years? I can’t remember anyone outside of maybe USC doing that.”
Schlossnagle knows LSU history well.
He was an assistant coach at Tulane from 1993 to 2001, a period when LSU won four titles. But one of Schlossnagle’s Tulane teams defeated LSU in a super regional in 2001 to make the College World Series. It was the last game in the career of coach Skip Bertman, the architect of LSU baseball.
At Tulane, Schlossnagle recruited Andy Cannizaro, who played shortstop on that team and is now the LSU hitting coach.
So Schlossnagle knows what makes LSU tick.
He has tried to model some of it at TCU.
“I was there for the heyday,” Schlossnagle said. “Really watching Coach Bertman do that. But he learned from Ron Fraser, the godfather of college baseball at the University of Miami, in terms of building a complete program — the recruiting, the marketing and promotions, the camp, the attendance, the game operations, the in-game promotions, all the things. My goal was to have a minor league baseball atmosphere in a college park. We’ve done that.”
LSU coach Paul Mainieri won the 2009 national title with the Tigers. He began his playing career at LSU in 1976. He was not on Bertman’s staff. But he recognizes the hallmarks TCU is building in baseball under Schlossnagle.
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“Maybe once in a while you can put together a good team and get to Omaha,” he said. “When you are banging on the door every year and you get here in consecutive years, that’s not by accident. That’s a program. That’s different from just having a good team.”
The significance of Sunday is not lost on the Frogs.
“It’d be huge for us to beat them, because I don’t even remember the last time we played them, if ever,” shortstop Keaton Jones said. “Just beating them would really show how good of a team we really are — beating any one of those teams would. But LSU, they’re very, very talented, and we respect them a lot. I think we can go out there and compete with them.”
The Horned Frogs must do more than compete. They have to win both the matchup against LSU and the next against Vanderbilt or Cal State Fullerton for the most manageable shot at the championship. A loss Sunday or Tuesday means the road must go through the loser’s bracket, which will require victories Thursday, Friday and Saturday to reach the best-of-three championship round.
But the Horned Frogs are trusting their résumé. They are no longer newcomers to Omaha. They don’t have an LSU history, but believe they are as ready as one of the sport’s most decorated schools.
“I think that 49-13 record speaks for itself, and we earned that, and nobody can take that away from us,” third baseman Derek Odell said. “But we still feel like we have unfinished business, and we always play with a chip on our shoulders and play the TCU brand of baseball that we’ve learned from other guys who played here, watching TCU play baseball, and from Coach Schloss.”
After their experience in the regional and super regional rounds, escaping near defeat each time, the Horned Frogs are unlikely to get stage fright.
“Just playing with a chip on our shoulder like we always have something to prove is what we want to be portrayed as,” Odell said. “We’re trying to tell our story here. We’re still trying to write our story about how this season’s going to be remembered by a bunch of other people.”
Including, perhaps, the other team on the stage.
Carlos Mendez, 817-390-7407
TCU vs. LSU
2 p.m. Sunday, TD Ameritrade Park, Omaha, Neb.
RHP Preston Morrison (11-3, 2.55) vs. LHP Jared Poche (9-1, 2.91)
Winner vs. Fullerton/Vanderbilt winner, 7 p.m. Tue.
Loser vs. Fullerton/Vanderbilt loser, 2 p.m. Tue.
Records: TCU 49-13;