OMAHA—Schools making their first appearance in the College World Series rarely stick around much past pregame introductions at Rosenblatt Stadium. Wide-eyed wonder leads to lots of called third strikes. And butterflies in the stomach tend to throw off your pitching mechanics.
Before this year, eight schools had made their first appearance in the CWS since the new 64-team format was established in 1999. Five of them went home winless. Louisiana-Lafeyette (2-2) was the only one to win more than one game.
TCU, the only newcomer in this year's eight-team field, proved to be an exception. And it took another exceptional pitching performance from UCLA's Trevor Bauer on Saturday to make the Horned Frogs pack up their gear. TCU's three victories here were the most by a team making its Omaha debut since 1994, when Georgia Tech won three games and finished runner-up to Oklahoma.
"I think there's a lot of people that expected us to keep our video cameras out and take a lot of pictures during the games and go home in two games. And we didn't do that," said TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle. "I'm really proud of my team. I told them all along there are no bad days in Omaha. There's no bad days here. And I am really proud of them to come out here and not just show up and feel good about it, but to compete within one game of the championship series is amazing."
TCU had shown it could dominate the Mountain West Conference, winning the conference championship all five years it has been a member. But before this spring, the Frogs had yet to prove themselves as bona fide contenders for the national title, having never broken through to the CWS. The Frogs had a breakthrough this year with a hard-fought super regional victory at Texas that sent them to Omaha. And they stuck around longer than most people would have expected.
"It elevates our program in every fashion," said Schlossnagle. "To host a regional again, you win a conference championship, regular-season tournament, regional at home, and then go to the University of Texas in that environment and win.
"We've been talking for seven years about what we're going to do at TCU, what we can do, and now we've proven that we can do that. We still have something to strive for, which is to win the whole thing."
TCU loses some key veterans, chief among them catcher Bryan Holaday, whose heart and soul was evident throughout the series. His two homers Saturday off Bauer provided hope until the Bruins' bats finally decided the matter. The Frogs also will need to replace the bat of Matt Curry, their leading home run hitter, as well as righthander Tyler Lockwood and probably Steven Maxwell. But no one else in the nation can say they return a pitcher who went 16-0 this season, as freshman lefthander Matt Purke did. Kyle Winkler, who won 12 games, also will be back in the rotation. And Schlossnagle said TCU's closer-in-waiting, Kaleb Merck, emerged here. Shortstop Tyler Featherston will be asked to fill Holaday's leadership role. More also will be expected of outfielder Kyle Von Tungeln when he returns as a sophomore.
The Frogs are on notice. The bar has been raised.
Schlossnagle couldn't be happier with the experience.
"Other than winning the whole tournament, it couldn't have been any better for us the last 10 days," he said. "And not just for us, for our fans . . . It's about getting the players, but it's also about getting the entire community and getting in to say, 'Hey, this is real college baseball.' So, hopefully, we'll take that back to Fort Worth and continue to grow our program and our crowd and fan base."
As enjoyable as it was to be part of the final year at Rosenblatt, Schlossnagle would like nothing better than to help inaugurate TD Ameritrade park, the new downtown ballpark, in 2011.
"Omaha and the NCAA they have a big challenge ahead of them because you have to replicate everything that this whole part of town and Rosenblatt is about at that new place," said Schlossnagle. "I'm sure they'll do it because it is about people. But that's going to be a big challenge. And I'm hoping we're back to see it in its first year."