TCU (49-13) and LSU (53-10) are both teams that have been ranked at the top of the college baseball polls for most of the 2015.
The Horned Frogs’ pitching, defense and timely hitting is what has carried TCU to a Big 12 Championship and its third College World Series appearance.
LSU’s powerful bats, speed on the base paths and talented young pitching led the Tigers to a SEC Championship and their 17th trip to Omaha.
Despite hosting their regional and super regional, TCU’s road to Omaha was a bumpy one.
The Frogs lost the second game of the Fort Worth regional to NC State after they led 4-3 in the ninth inning. The Wolfpack’s designated hitter Chance Shepard hit a two-run homer off of the Frogs’ All-American closer Riley Ferrell in the ninth, sending the Frogs to the loser’s bracket.
TCU went on to win three straight games, which included an eight-run comeback in the final three innings against the Wolfpack to advance to the Super Regionals against Texas A&M.
After the Frogs stomped the Aggies 13-4 in the first game of their Super Regional, they lost Game 2 by a final score of 2-1 in 10 innings.
Then in Game 3, TCU blew a 4-2 lead in the ninth and had to wait seven more innings before they could celebrate a 5-4 win in 16 innings against the Aggies that sent the Frogs to Omaha.
LSU, on the other hand, had a much smoother road to the College World Series as the Tigers have gone 5-0 in NCAA Tournament play thus far.
The Tigers beat Lehigh 10-3 in their first game and finished off the Baton Rouge regional by shutting out UNC-Wilmington 2-0 in consecutive games.
LSU then went on to sweep the Baton Rouge Super Regional against UL-Lafayette as the Tigers beat the Ragin Cajuns 4-3 in Game 1 and 6-3 in Game 2.
During NCAA Tournament play, LSU’s pitchers have combined for a 1.60 ERA. On Sunday, left-hander Jared Poché will take the mound against the Frogs. In his two NCAA Tournament starts, where he pitched 16 1/3 innings, Poché only allowed one run on 11 hits and struck out 15 batters.
In the postseason, TCU’s lefty-heavy lineup has struggled with left-handed pitchers, particularly NC State’s Brian Brown and Texas A&M’s Matt Kent.
TCU head coach Jim Schlossnagle said he is not surprised that LSU coach Paul Manieri plans to start Poché on Sunday.
“We knew going into the season we were going to play a lot of left-handed hitters,” Schlossnagle said. “Going back to the recruiting season, that was one effort we made the last two or three years to add more balance to our lineup. When in doubt, they’re equal and ready to take the left-handed hitter, which then means you’re going to be a lot more susceptible to left-handed pitching.”
Senior Preston Morrison will take the mound for the Horned Frogs against the Tigers. Though Morrison has started more games than any pitcher in TCU history, he has never won a postseason game. Manieri said he’s never seen Morrison pitch in person, but he said his shortstop Alex Bregman, who played with Morrison on Team USA, speaks highly of the right-hander.
“Alex told me he’s a tremendous competitor and a really outstanding pitcher,” Manieri said. “So he’s going to be a great challenge for us. So I’m not surprised Jim pitched him because of his experience.”
If Morrison gets his first NCAA Tournament win on Sunday, it probably won’t come easy.
LSU is hitting .316 as a team, which is the fourth best team batting average in the country while eight LSU starters are hitting over .300 coming into the College World Series.
TCU’s Super Regional opponent, Texas A&M had six starters hitting over the .300 mark, but Schlossnagle said the Tigers present a tougher challenge as LSU ranks fourth in the NCAA in stolen bases.
“The difference is the speed element,” Schlossnagle said. “They’re not just — they can win games in a variety of ways. So with Texas A&M, it was a matter of they’re going to hammer your mistakes. If you could make pitches, then you gave yourself a chance, which is probably most good hitters. The difference with LSU is just very, very complete team. So there’s more than just making pitches to bigger physical players.”
While the Tigers’ speed and consistent hitting makes them dangerous, they can also hit for power.
Catcher Chis Chinea leads the Tigers with 11 home runs while second baseman Jared Foster and Alex Bregman, the second overall pick in the MLB Draft, have both hit nine homers.
TCU, a team that has scored 149 runs with two outs, is known more for its clutch hitting than their power as the Frogs have only homered 27 times this season.
While centerfielder Cody Jones, who leads Frogs with a .371 batting average and was named the Big 12 Player of the Year, is often referred to as the leader of his team, fellow senior Derek Odell was the one swinging the hot bat in the Frogs’ Super Regional.
Last weekend, Odell hit .538 and knocked in and scored three runs against the Aggies after slumping for a large part of the regular season.
Catcher Evan Skoug has been another key contributor in TCU’s postseason run. After catching 16 innings is Game 3 against A&M, he knocked in the game-winning run to advance the Frogs to the College Word Series. The Freshman All American leads the Frogs with seven homers, 14 doubles and 44 RBIs.
“He’s excited to play,” Schlossnagle said when asked if Skoug was prepared mentally for the College World Series. “Everything’s been brand new for him. We’ve asked a lot of him all year, to clean up every game and handle an older pitching staff. He’s mature beyond his years. I don’t anticipate anything being any different for him.”