OMAHA, Neb. -- Preston Morrison wasn’t taken in any of the MLB draft’s 40 rounds last week. That’s 1,215 picks without the TCU junior’s name being called.
Sunday in Omaha, Morrison did everything except get the win in a performance that surely will have professional teams kicking themselves for not selecting the right-hander.
Morrison struck out a career-high 10 Texas Tech batters in his 7.1 innings of work as his Horned Frogs rallied for two runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to win 3-2.
So what changed Sunday in Omaha?
“That first outing, that wasn’t me at all,” Morrison said. “I didn’t have any control. My stuff wasn’t as sharp as it usually is and [Sunday] was more of a typical outing for me -- my slider was on point. I was able to locate my fastball when I needed to and threw a couple of changeups for a couple of outs. I just had more confidence and I was able to make my pitches when I needed to.”
Texas Tech head coach Tim Tadlock had an easy answer.
“The day we scored some runs on him, we really found some holes,” Tadlock said. “We had some balls hit that could have very easily been outs. And it seemed like [Sunday], basically they were well-positioned and got some outs when they needed it.”
Morrison doesn’t throw gas like most guys who have struck out 10. And he doesn’t seem like the top candidate to become only the third pitcher at TD Ameritrade Park to record double-digit strikeouts. He tops out at about 88 mph, but he’ll drop down and throw a slow curveball in the 60s. Maybe it was even in the 50s, as Tadlock pointed out. Deception is key and he slowed the Texas Tech bats on a day where they were jacked up, sped up.
His final pitch of the seventh inning came in at 71 mph to Devon Conley and it was popped up in foul territory to catcher Kyle Bacak. It was the first inning he didn’t have a strikeout.
“Preston was outstanding; I’m really, really proud of him, especially since really the one bad outing that he's had in his college career was against [Texas Tech] in the first weekend of conference play,” TCU head coach Jim Schlossnagle said. “And so I know there was some eyebrows raised when we decided to go with Preston. But I felt like that was the best matchup and it's a pretty easy decision when you have to choose between the Big 12 Pitcher of the Year and a first-rounder. He did a great job.”
Sunday marked the fifth time the Big 12 rivals faced one another this season. The teams split the first four games with the Red Raiders taking two of three in the conference series while outscoring TCU 22-13.
It was a different kind of game this time around, with Texas Tech pitchers recording 27 consecutive scoreless innings entering their first appearance at the College World Series. That ended quickly -- in the first inning -- when TCU plated a run that looked as if it would be all Morrison needed, having eight strikeouts in the first four innings.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise, Morrison’s performance, which included allowing five hits and two walks while throwing 108 pitches. The only run he allowed scored after he left the game, when Texas Tech took a 2-1 lead in the top of the eighth off star reliever Riley Ferrell.
Morrison arrived in Omaha with the ninth-best ERA in the nation at 1.32 and was named the Big 12 Pitcher of the Year.
When you look at Ferrell’s stats, Morrison giving way to Ferrell should’ve allowed him to pick up his 10th win of the season. Ferrell had allowed just one hit and struck out 12 in his past four NCAA tournament appearances. Two at-bats and two extra-base hits later, Morrison’s chance at a win was gone. TCU’s lead was gone.
“I’ve watched enough College World Series games to know that with the off days, I told our team that one of the best teams, the teams that win this thing normally have a closer that can throw more than one inning,” Schlossnagle said. “I was honestly thinking about starting off the [eighth] inning with [Ferrell].”
But this Horned Frogs team is nothing if not resilient. Remember the 22-inning game against Sam Houston State in the regionals? Or how about the six one-run wins in their seven NCAA tournament games?
Three hits and a huge throwing error later, TCU had regained the lead in the bottom of the eighth, marking the first time the lead had changed twice in the eighth inning or later in the CWS since Southern Mississippi played Texas in 2009.
Morrison didn’t have his win, but his Horned Frogs did. At this time of the year, that’s all that matters.