Last season, the TCU baseball team earned the No. 7 overall seed in the NCAA tournament after claiming the Big 12 Tournament title the week before the Fort Worth regional. The Frogs won all of their regional games, before they eventually made their way to Omaha for the College World Series.
Like last year, Jim Schlossnagle’s club is in the No. 7 spot after an impressive regular season. But the Frogs made an early exit out of the Big 12 Tournament as they lost their first two matches to instate rivals Baylor and Texas Tech.
Though the losses can be seen as a momentum killer, especially since the Frogs did not lose back-to-back games during the regular season, Schlossnagle said the losses could be viewed as a positive for his team.
“We’re taking the vantage point that it’s a blessing in disguise,” Schlossnagle said. “Everybody hit adversity at some point in the year. Other than that Kansas State weekend, which wasn’t much, we didn’t really have any. So, we rather get that behind us now. We just feel like that’s part of our story.”
TCU centerfielder Cody Jones said TCU’s early trip home from Tulsa didn’t lower his teammate’s confidence.
“We hit a point where we struggled there, and I thought it was good for us because we fought through adversity, and we’ve been working on the things we need to work at,” said the Big 12 Player of the Year. “We’re feeling good, really good. We’re feeling confident.”
After an eight day break since their last game, the Frogs (43-11, 18-5 Big 12) will play No. 4 seed Sacred Heart (23-30-1, 13-11 NEC) at Lupton Stadium on Friday at 7 p.m.
Schlosssnagle said that all the teams in the field of 64 are either really good or really hot. The Pioneers of Scared Heart would fall into the latter category.
The Pioneers began their season 3-14-1, but went 20-16 in April and May. Though Sacred Heart finished its season below .500, it won the North Eastern Conference Tournament and received an automatic bid for the NCAA Tournament.
Schlossnagle said James Cooksey (7-2) will start on the mound for the Pioneers against the Frogs. Cooksey is coming off a nine-inning performance against Wagner in the NEC tournament, where he gave up just one earned run on two hits and two walks while striking out five batters.
“We’re going to face a really good pitcher tomorrow,” Schlossnagle said. “He controls the run game, which is really important against our team.”
TCU’s Mitchell Traver (8-4), who hasn’t pitched since May 14, is expected to get the start for the Frogs on Friday. He said he’s been pitching in simulated games in practice to stay fresh.
“It’s an exciting opportunity to be able to start Game 1,” Traver said. “Either way, I’m looking at it as any other regular season start. My goal is to go out there and execute pitches like I have all year.”
On Friday, Traver who will face NEC First Team shortstop Zack Short, who is batting .302 and leads the Pioneers with 38 RBIs, 14 doubles, a .421 on base percentage and nine home runs, the most hit by a player playing in the Fort Worth regional.
In the 2:30 p.m. game on Friday the No. 2 seed North Carolina State (34-21, 15-14 ACC) will play the No. 3 seed Stony Brook. The Frogs will play one of the two on Saturday.
The NC State Wolfpack, who were eliminated by No. 10 Florida State in the ACC Tournament championship game on Sunday present a lineup filled with hot hitters and effective pitchers.
Preston Palmeiro, the sun of MLB great Rafael Palmeiro, is a familiar face for TCU’s head coach.
Palmeiro, a Colleyville native, was recruited by TCU when he was in high school as a first baseman, however, his position had already been filled by former TCU first baseman Kevin Cron, who helped last year’s Horned Frogs make the College World Series.
“We had him over her for a lot of visits as a young player, but we had Kevin Cron,” Schlossnagle said. “One of the issues in college baseball, especially in a private school, is that you can’t recruit your wants, you can only recruit your needs. Sometimes there will be a guy right down the street that you would really like to have in your program, but you already have somebody at that specific position.”
Perhaps the Frogs should have taken Palmeiro anyway. He’s batting .316 and leads the Wolfpack with 71 hits and 48 RBIs, while first base has been a revolving door for TCU as the Frogs have started three different first basemen this year.
But Palmerio and the rest of the middle of the order for the Wolfpack are not all their Saturday opponent will have to worry about. NC State touts one of the best pitching staffs in the county. As a staff, NC States pitchers are ranked first in the NCAA with 6.87 hits allowed per nine innings, second with 9.4 strikeouts per nine innings and 12th with a 2.93 ERA.
Right-hander Cory Wilder (2-5), who leads the Wolfpack with 71 strikeouts, will start on Saturday for NC State. Behind Wilder is reliever Will Gilbert, who has only surrendered 27 hits and 14 runs in 41 1/3 innings pitched. While Gilbert has been effective, Tommy DeJuneas has been the Wolfpack’s go-to closer. DeJuneas is sporting a 1.83 ERA and has struck out 57 during 39 2/3 innings of work.
The Frogs other possible opponent is Stony Brook (34-14-1, 18-4-1 America East).
Avid college baseball fans remember the Stony Brook Seawolves from their 2012 postseason run that ended with a College World Series appearance. Like Sacred Heart, Stony Brook received an automatic bid by winning their conference tournament.
Though the Seawolves have made the trip to Omaha, they’ve never traveled to play in Texas. But while the Seawolves may not be familiar with the lone star state, they are familiar with winning.
Stony Brook has won nine of its last 10 games. The game they didn’t win was a tie against Binghamton right before they swept the America East Conference Tournament.
The Seawolves are led by leftfielder Jack Parently, who was named the America East Conference Player of the Year. The junior leads the team with a .351 batting average, 46 RBIs, 17 stolen bases and ranks eighth in the country in triples with seven.
On the mound, the Seawolves could start either Tyler Honahan (7-3) or Daniel Zamora (7-3). Reliever Cameron Stone is likely to see some time on the mound as he holds a team low 0.72 ERA and has only allowed two runs and struck out 32 batters in 25 innings pitched.