OMAHA, Neb. -- Something was missing from Preston Morrison’s crowded résumé.
He is the nation’s active leader in wins (37) and innings pitched (469.1), has a sub-2.00 career ERA, and was crowned by TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle as “the best pitcher in the history of the school, bar none.” But in eight previous starts in his four years at TCU, Morrison had yet to record a win in the postseason.
“It is very exciting,” Morrison said of getting the W, though he deflected its significance in favor of the team's mission. “I think the most important thing for me is getting another step closer to our ultimate goal, which is a national championship.”
It’s been a long-time coming for Morrison, who was a walk-on with no guaranteed roster spot at the beginning of his career in Fort Worth. He earned that spot by posting a 9-2 record in 22 appearances (11 starts) with a 2.08 ERA. As a sophomore he lowered his ERA to 1.51 and even further to 1.32 as a junior. Despite his collection of Big 12 and national accolades, all 40 rounds of the 2014 MLB Draft passed without Morrison hearing his name.
Things are coming together better for Morrison now. He was selected in the eighth round last week by the Chicago Cubs, he’s finally in the win column in the postseason, and most importantly -- his Horned Frogs are advancing with a win in the first weekend of the College World Series for the second consecutive year. TCU will play the winner of Sunday’s Vanderbilt-Cal State Fullerton game on Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET.
“You’re looking at a TCU hall of famer, and I think a guy that can pitch in the big leagues, no doubt about that,” Schlossnagle said. “He’s a rocking chair pitcher -- it means I can just sit back in a rocking chair and watch him go.”
Sunday’s battle was one of the more highly anticipated games on this year’s Omaha slate, with Morrison matching up with Tiger sophomore ace Jared Poche’. The pairing lived up to the hype early, as Morrison faced 11 batters through three scoreless innings while his counterpart was perfect heading into the fourth. That’s when it all fell apart for Poche’ -- and when Morrison turned it up another level.
TCU spotted Morrison a 6-1 lead in the next two frames, taking advantage of mistakes, specifically errors on throws to first by Poche’. Morrison, after giving up two hits at the start of the fourth, then shutdown LSU’s potent and deep lineup.
“I had to adjust a little bit after that one-run inning,” Morrison said. “They were kind of going after me earlier in the count than we had planned for. Made an adjustment, and it worked out.”
As TCU kept loading on the runs, LSU didn’t have a chance. Morrison finished five hits and one earned run in seven innings. He struck out five and walked none. Of his 89 pitches, 63 were strikes.
“That’s what he’s done his whole career,” LSU shortstop Alex Bregman said. “He’s the winningest pitcher in TCU history for a reason. He’s a competitor. We got a lot of weak contact. He lived off the barrel, towards the end of the bat, and we didn’t get him up in the zone enough today.”
It’s not that Morrison hadn’t pitched well in the postseason before Sunday. While the title of “winning pitcher” in a game proved elusive, he had put his team in great position to win several times. Five of his previous eight tournament starts were no-decisions, including a game in the Super Regionals against Texas A&M where he had given up just one run and exited the game in the 10th inning. The Aggies ended up winning on a sacrifice fly. He also was the starter in last year’s 22-inning game against Sam Houston State.
In the 2014 College World Series, his only other start in Omaha, Morrison went 7.1 innings and struck out 10 in an opening-weekend win against Texas Tech. The Horned Frogs quickly fell behind after his exit, but rallied to win 3-2.
“He’s pitched great in the postseason throughout his entire career,” Schlossnagle said. “He just hasn’t had a whole lot to show for it, because when you’re in the postseason, you’re facing another great pitcher. … I’m just excited to get the chance to see him pitch again.”
The Horned Frogs have eight seniors, and Morrison is one of the main figures in the dugout and clubhouse. When the team needs a boost in extra innings, he may not be able to pitch he’s doing whatever it takes -- even if that means having to balance the rest of the team’s hats on his head.
“He’s so even-keeled, nothing affects him, bad or good,” third baseman Derek Odell said. “He’s got that confidence which gives us confidence behind him to make plays. I speak for all the infielders when I say that there’s no one we’d rather have on the mound in a big situation than Preston Morrison. He’s your guy.”