TCU, Virginia are built for this
After four years at TD Ameritrade Park, teams are positioned to play in CWS
OMAHA, Neb. -- A team rolls into the College World Series every few years with a look about it.
Oregon State brought a rare sense of confidence in 2007 in its repeat run to the title. Two years ago, Arizona emerged quickly to look unbeatable behind a remarkable run of starting pitching.
This year, there's just something about TCU. It's different than what we've seen in Omaha recently, but familiar at the same time.
After the Horned Frogs' 3-2 win over Texas Tech on Sunday in which nearly unhittable reliever Riley Ferrell blew a save opportunity by surrendering back-to-back base hits in the eighth inning -- he'd allowed 0.4 hits per inning in the regular season and two hits in 9 1/3 innings this postseason before Sunday -- TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle was asked if the Frogs might be a "team of destiny."
He considered it, then suggested an alternative.
"I believe teams that have really good starting pitching can win baseball games," he said. "That, and a good closer. So if that's destiny, I'll take it."
Here's a thought: Four games into this CWS, no team fits the venue and the event better than the Horned Frogs.
Maybe, instead of destiny, TCU is well-positioned, with standout left-hander and recent first-round MLB draft pick Brandon Finnegan set to pitch against Virginia on Tuesday night. And maybe the Frogs are in that position because Schlossnagle had time to build the right team for this stadium.
TD Ameritrade Park opened in 2011. This is the fourth CWS here. Coaches know what works at this event by now, so it stands to reason they'll assemble rosters and distribute scholarships to fit the formula.
Schlossnagle brought a pitching staff into Omaha on Sunday that led the nation in ERA. Its bullpen, even after Ferrell's stumble, has allowed three runs in 30 innings this postseason.
The Horned Frogs have hurled 14 shutouts and held foes to two runs or fewer in 42 of 64 games.
If Finnegan and that strong bullpen handle business on Tuesday -- no easy task against the highest-seeded team in the field -- the Frogs will get to rest until Friday night. No team at this CWS can match Vanderbilt's deep stack of arms on the opposite side of the bracket, but pitching depth matters less with three games spread over six days. The discussion about destiny began after TCU answered the Tech rally in the eighth with two runs to erase a 2-1 deficit. Nothing new for this group.
The Frogs survived scares in the Fort Worth Regional against Siena (a 2-1 win in 11 innings) and Sam Houston State (3-2 in 22 innings) before scoring two runs in the top of the ninth to beat Pepperdine 6-5 in the decisive super regional game.
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"I'm not telling you I'm very comfortable with it," Schlossnagle said, "but these guys are. And they don't panic a bit. I honestly try to stay out of the way because they're very comfortable in playing close games."
Same goes for Virginia, which used Mike Papi's walk-off, two-out, two-strike double to beat Ole Miss 2-1 on Sunday night. In that situation, the Cavs were "pretty calm and confident," according to coach Brian O'Connor. O'Connor and Schlossnagle recognize the trend that Arizona in 2012 and others, like Fresno State in 2008 and runner-up Mississippi State last year, have parlayed into deep runs in Omaha.
"If you get hot and you play the best, then you can be the national champion," Schlossnagle said. "And so we would much rather be the team playing the best than the very best team."
Problem is, the team TCU is set to see next can also make a case for the team that's playing best -- and probably a better one for best team in the country. In TCU's favor, Virginia used ace pitcher Nathan Kirby on Sunday. He allowed one hit in seven innings. The Cavaliers' mix of pitching depth and offensive potency makes them, without trying to get too fancy, a great team.
"They're going to have to play a great team, too," Schlossnagle said.
But just as important, a team that's got the right look.