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TCU's Kyle Bacak talked into heroism

Kyle Bacak's squeeze bunt against Pepperdine ultimately sent TCU to the College World Series. AP Photo/Brandon Wade

FORT WORTH, Texas -- TCU's senior catcher Kyle Bacak stepped out of the batter's box in the ninth inning of Monday's Omaha-deciding game with Pepperdine and glanced down at third-base coach Bill Mosiello.

Bacak was ahead in the count 1-0 in a tie game with runners at second and third with one out. And Mosiello, who handles the offense for the Frogs, decided to gamble.

"I was surprised to see him put on the squeeze, but I probably shouldn't have been because it was the perfect situation for it," Bacak said. "It totally made sense. I was anticipating another breaking ball. I was trying to keep the barrel up and use my knees. He threw me a breaking ball and I got the bunt down.

"I got a little excited halfway down the first-base line when I knew it was fair. I knew I had done my job. I knew that Riley [Ferrell] was going to close it out."

The fact that Mosiello, with the backing of head coach Jim Schlossnagle, trusted Bacak enough to make that call with a trip to the College World Series on the line shows how far the Frogs' catcher has come in a little more than a year.

It was just last April that he sat in Schlossnagle's office, which overlooks Lupton Stadium on the edge of campus, and received the lecture of a lifetime. To call it a meeting would infer that there was some sort of exchange of ideas between the two men. That wasn't the case.

"It was one-sided," Schlossnagle said. "I can promise you that."

Bacak said the coach was to the point and blunt. The catcher had just allowed a passed ball on a strikeout, of all things, to put the leadoff hitter on base in the eighth inning of the final game of a three-game series with Baylor. That play ignited a late Bears rally. It was Bacak's 15th passed ball of the season, and Schlossnagle was fed up. He knew his catcher could be better.

"He chewed me out," Bacak said. "He said, 'For us to be where we need to be, you've got to play better. The reason we got you here was that you're a good defensive catcher and we need you to live up to that.' He was right."

Bacak was dealing with some mental yips prior to that confrontation. He admitted that for whatever reason, he momentarily lost the ability to block the plate with any confidence.

"I was doubting myself," said Bacak, who played his freshman season at Houston, transferred to San Jacinto College in Pasadena, Texas, then wound up at TCU before his junior season. "I don't know how to explain. I'd never had anything like that happen. We weren't playing well and we weren't scoring any runs, so those mistakes were magnified."

The stern talk from his coach seemed to push Bacak through it. He didn't have another passed ball the rest of the season.

"Sometimes you need a wake-up call," Schlossnagle said. "There are only so many pats on the back or stern conversations you can have until somebody's going to say exactly what the truth is. That was the case. To his credit, he didn't pout about it. He filtered out the tone and took the criticism."

And he got better. His teammates could see it almost immediately. There was a renewed sense of purpose and determination.

"Instead of getting onto our butts, he got onto his own," Ferrell said. "He started stepping up and being the role player he is."

Bacak has become a reliable catcher with the ability to read the personalities of his pitchers. Since the pitching coach normally calls the game in college baseball -- and former big leaguer Kirk Saarloos handles that for the Frogs -- the catcher's main job is keep his pitcher calm and focused while providing solid defense.

As Pepperdine was threatening to tie the score in the ninth after Ferrell allowed a leadoff walk, Bacak calmed his pitcher down without the need for a motivational speech.

"He was tapping his chest, that's all it was," Ferrell said. "It was not an aggressive pound, just a tap. He was saying, 'This is now, you have to deal with this. Let's go.' I relocked in and I was ready to go. He's good in those situations. He's a general out there."

Bacak played all 22 innings of TCU's marathon win over Sam Houston State in the Fort Worth Regional. That's a lot of innings for any player, but especially the catcher.

"He might have punched me in the mouth had I taken him out," Schlossnagle said.

Bacak, who was pinch hit for during the middle game of the three-game super regional series with Pepperdine, did have a chat with his coach during Monday's winner-goes-to-Omaha game.

"I went down to get a drink of water and he said, 'If there are guys on base, I'm not coming out, '" Schlossnagle recounted. "I said, 'Yes sir.'"

And there he was, at the plate in the most critical moment to deliver the eventual game-winning bunt. It was TCU small ball at its finest and Bacak delivered.

After a year of learning from mistakes and growing as a player, Bacak was drafted in the 25th round of the Major League Baseball draft by the Washington Nationals. It was one more goal reached.

"It's phenomenal what he's done," Schlossnagle said. "Every catcher I've had in this program has played professional baseball. So the fact that he got drafted is huge. He's heard me said that, and the fact that he's carrying that on is awesome."

Of course, he's got a few games left in a TCU uniform first.