Schlossnagle is left looking for inspiration with his team needing to win three more elimination games to advance to the College World Series finals.
“I think as a coach you’re always looking for the positive, trying to come with the right thing to say to the guys, but you can’t get ahead of your self because the competition is so good,” Schlossnagle said. “It’s coachy. All hands on deck. One day at a time. To try to stick around here a little longer.”
Schlossnagle needs not to look no further than the 2016 College World Series for a blueprint his team could replicate. After both the Horned Frogs and Oklahoma State won their first two games in Omaha, both eventual national champion Coastal Carolina and national runner-up Arizona climbed out of the loser’s bracket to reach the last round of the NCAA Tournament.
But first, TCU needs to get past the Louisville Cardinals Thursday, who have their own version of a Luken Baker in Brendan McKay. The Cardinal first baseman and left-handed pitcher won the 2017 Dick Howser Trophy, given to the best college baseball player in the country, and was selected No. 4 overall by the Tampa Bay Rays in the 2017 MLB Draft.
“They’re an elite team, and I honestly think they’re the most physically talented team here from pitching to defense, athleticism, power, and that speed,” Schlossnagle said.
If TCU can defeat the Cardinals, Florida remains in the national semifinals.
“Florida is very elite on the mound, so it’s Division I baseball at the absolute highest level, and we’re one of those teams too, still standing,” Schlossnagle said.
Lodolo or Traver: Schlossnagle undecided on who will pitch against Louisville
Starting pitching, more often than not, is what determines who wins and loses in the College World Series with the difference between the remaining teams so razor thin.
Up next to decide that will be either redshirt senior and right-hander Mitchell Traver or freshman southpaw Nick Lodolo.
“It’s a decision between Nick and Mitchell, and I don’t know if there is a right or wrong answer for that,” Schlossnagle said. “In my mind, it’s always about winning the tournament and seeing what the best matchup is as we move forward.”
When looking at the Louisville Cardinals’ lineup, it would seem that Lodolo would be better suited to take the mound.
“They have a couple more left-handed hitters than Florida, who has a lot of righties, and they both run a lot so if I had to pick to stay left-handed, it would obviously be Nick,” Schlossnagle said. “Traver does a really good job with limiting the run game.”
Louisville head coach Dan McDonnell believes Lodolo will be the TCU pitcher to square off against his team.
“I’m assuming we’re facing the highest draft pick that went to college last year, and it’s a great opportunity,” McDonnell said in reference to Lodolo being selected 41st overall by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 2016 MLB draft but choosing instead to come to TCU.
Schlossnagle maintained that it’ll ultimately be himself making the final decision, taking McDonnell’s prediction in jest.
“I’ll tell you what if Dan can pick my pitcher, I’ll go ahead and pick theirs,” Schlossnagle said.
Whoever Schlossnagle decides not to choose for Thursday’s game would be the starter of Friday’s game if TCU manages to defeat Louisville. In the meantime, he isn’t worried about pouting from either pitcher.
“The beauty of it is they’re both chomping at the bit to start, but they’re all about the team, so they’ll be fine with whatever happens,” Schlossnagle said. “Easiest way to do it is to win one more that way they’ll both get a start.”
As for the bullpen, Schlossnagle said, “everybody who threw in the first game” should be available, except starting pitcher Jared Janczak, who wouldn’t pitch again this season unless TCU can continue its season into Saturday.
Horned Frog lineup looking for more production from the top
While the Horned Frog’s bottom half of the batting order powered the team past Texas A&M Tuesday, TCU head coach Jim Schlossnagle knows it’ll need its premier players to be at their best to continue their season past its elimination game against Louisville Thursday.
Hitters five through nine in the TCU batting order totaled six hits, one strikeout and three RBI’s against the Aggies Tuesday. Hitters one through four combined for only one hit, seven strikeouts and one RBI.
“That’s the beauty of our team: our batting averages aren’t great, they’re not bad, but not great, so on any given days one of those guys could take off,” Schlossnagle said. “We’ve said since the beginning of the year if you had to flip our lineup upside down I’d be okay with it at least to start the season. Right now, maybe not, but they’re all so talented that any one of them can change the game with one swing, and thank goodness they did, which is why we’re still here.”
While Schlossnagle said not everyone will be hitting well at the same time, the team needs more from its leadoff hitter, right fielder Austen Wade. Wade is 3-26 in the NCAA Tournament, drawing seven walks.
“They’re making good pitches to him, and he’s pressing a little bit, so I might have a little talk with him today,” Schlossnagle said of Wade. “He’s still getting on base enough, but obviously for us to win against the two teams left in our bracket, we’re going to have to him at his best.”
If the Horned Frogs want their dreams of bringing home a national championship to be realized, they’ll also need a little bit more from Skoug, who is 7-26 with 15 strikeouts in the NCAA Tournament. However, all seven of Skoug’s hits have been for extra bases: three doubles and four home runs.
There’s also been an added challenge for Skoug in Omaha: the shift.
When Skoug came up to bat Sunday with no one on base, Florida moved its third baseman to where the shortstop usually stands in between third and second base, its shortstop moved to where the second baseman would normally stand in between second and first, and its second baseman stood in shallow right field. When Skoug stepped up to the plate Tuesday against Texas A&M with runners on base, the Aggies also moved their second base man into right field, but its third baseman stood slightly closer to third base because of the potential for a runner to move to third.
Teams align their infield this way against the All-American catcher because the scouting report reads that the majority of the left-handed hitting Skoug’s hits are pulled toward right field, the natural power area for lefties.
“It’s happened to him before,” Schlossnagle said of Skoug facing shifts. “He goes in stretches where he gets pull-happy, and then he comes out of it and shoots balls to left field or over the fence to left field, which is just baseball, the ups, and downs of the season.”
First pitch between TCU and Louisville is at 7 p.m. Thursday at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Nebraska.