OMAHA, Neb. – Wanna be Cinderella, TCU? No?
Of course not. The Horned Frogs have 50 wins, call a power conference home, are in their fourth consecutive College World Series, and came into June as the No. 6 national seed. If that’s Cinderella, it’s with brass knuckles.
But here’s the thing. The other three teams still alive on win-or-go-home Saturday have all passed this way before. LSU, Oregon State and Florida have been to the championship round a combined 10 times. They’ll be as happy as mustard on a ballpark hot dog to advance again, but is there any time more fun than the first time?
Especially after 2016, when TCU advanced to this door, but lost twice to Coastal Carolina.
“That hurt, a lot,” second baseman Cam Warner said.
“We know what it feels like to be in the final four and get kicked out,” catcher Evan Skoug mentioned. “We have that taste in our mouth, and I think that’s going to help us because it brings us to a sense of urgency.”
Right fielder Austen Wade, too. “For us looking back at that, I feel like we got complacent at times last year. And obviously energy switched extremely fast from our dugout to Coastal Carolina’s. That’s a big factor at this time of year. One guy gets going, everyone gets going. Body language is a big thing.”
Anything seems possible, now. It was a bad day for the winners’ bracket Friday at the College World Series, where the two hottest pitching staffs in the tournament were outdueled.
Oregon State, the team that hadn’t lost in two months, lost. Florida, whose pitchers had allowed one run in two games, gave up eight to TCU in the first six innings on the way to a 9-2 defeat. Go figure.
As for TCU, the Horned Frogs seem to be growing accustomed to the Gators’ faces. They had never, ever played Florida before. Saturday will be their third meeting in seven days. They are also used to this elimination business, forced to take the long road through the losers’ bracket. This will be the fourth match point they try to avoid.
“I kind of feel like that’s when we play the best,” said freshman pitcher Charles King, who got his first career win Friday night. “We play alert on every single pitch and we don’t take any pitch off, we don’t take any pitch for granted.
“After a while, you kind of just feel at home with your back against the wall. You kind of feel like this is where we want to be and it’s the kind of environment we thrive in.”
That certainly has an upstart feel to it. Besides, TCU has never been to the basketball Elite Eight. The national football championship was in 1938. A run at the CWS title would feel awfully big in Fort Worth.
They have allowed nine runs in four games. They began Friday against the Gators by watching seven of their first eight batters strike out. “I started thinking,” said TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle, “has there ever been a 20-strikeout game in the World Series?”
Well, yes, but it’s been 52 years. Friday’s TCU total ended up being only 12.
“We’re just playing good baseball, taking it day by day,” shortstop Ryan Merrill “It’s always been one pitch at a time.”
Of course the next pitches against them will be thrown by Alex Faedo, who struck out 11 batters and gave up two hits in seven innings in Florida’s 3-0 win last weekend. “We owe him one,” Skoug said. “Every guy is excited to see him again.”
Plucky bunch, are they not?
They’re too good and too renowned to be Cinderella, but they are the one team that can go where no team has gone before Saturday night. If they win, they’ll feel something no one else here feels.