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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- It seems to happen every year. In college baseball, there's always a collection of teams that find their way once the NCAA postseason begins and the games become more important than ever.
TCU was one of those teams this past weekend in the College Station Regional, and that was without its leading hitter in veteran Jason Coats, who won't play again this season after sustaining a serious ACL injury the final regular season series against San Diego State.
In unlikely fashion, the Horned Frogs capped off an amazing and magical weekend at Blue Bell Park with a thrilling 7-4 win over Ole Miss, using clutch hitting and once again, plenty of clutch pitching, to get the job done and advance to next week's NCAA Super Regional round against UCLA.
"Just by the way we went about it, coming out of the loser's bracket and being down 9-6 in the loser's bracket game, then competing well against A&M in its own park in addition Ole Miss. It was special," TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle said. "I'm very, very proud to be wearing a TCU jersey right now."
The Horned Frogs overcame plenty of obstacles to get where they are right now. The Frogs began the season with high hopes, but there also were plenty of question marks about their pitching rotation outside of right-hander Andrew Mitchell with the departures of Matt Purke and Kyle Winkler. The Frogs also had some key cogs to replace from an offensive standpoint.
On top of all that, the Frogs had some serious injuries to deal as the regular season progressed. Brance Rivera, Kevin Cron and Jantzen Witte all have dealt with injuries at some point this season, so it was fitting all three came up with some key hits throughout the weekend in the College Station Regional.
Despite all the setbacks, including going 1-2 at the Mountain West tournament two weekends ago with tough losses to New Mexico and San Diego State, the Frogs put together a weekend that included a 4-1 record and 52 runs scored in three games, 28 of those in a single game against Dayton, from an offensive lineup hitting .272.
"We said it all year long when we had guys hurt. We felt like the last 20 games of the season would be better than our first 30," Schlossnagle said. "I knew we had a good offensive club and I felt we'd be a better team on the road for an NCAA Regional. I felt like our pitching would keep us in it once we were able to get healthy."
TCU's success over the weekend was a full team effort. Imposing freshman first baseman Kevin Cron displayed some outstanding power, Brance Rivera, who still is hitting .226 after the weekend, put together some great performances, and Kyle Von Tongeln (.301) and Derek Odell (.283) had key hits in big-time situations. Even Keaton Jones (.170) and Josh Gonzalez (.241) did some nice things in certain situations the past few days.
The same especially was the case with the TCU pitching staff, which overcame a tough showing against Dayton to have an impressive weekend.
For instance, in an elimination game against host Texas A&M, sophomore right-handed pitcher Stefan Crichton had a herculean performance, striking out four and allowing just two runs on six hits in a complete game showing. Then, Sunday night, the Horned Frogs beat Ole Miss, as freshman left-hander Brandon Finnegan and his 90-92 fastball silenced the Rebels. He struck out seven and allowed just two runs on six hits in 7 1/3 innings of work.
Then there's sidewinded reliever Justin Scharf, who tossed 1 2/3 scoreless frames in Sunday's win over the Rebels before allowing just one run on four hits in 4 2/3 innings in Monday's title-clinching bout.
"Mazey [Randy Mazey] has done a good job this season. We have a pretty good history of elite pitching here and when a pitcher comes here, he knows he's going to be held to a pretty high standard," he said. "We continued to get that this year, but this year has been a little different. I told the team in left field that 2010 was a great year, but we're doing it a little differently this year."
The 2010 campaign was a defining moment for TCU. The Horned Frogs had some serious star power with Purke, catcher Bryan Holaday, and others, reaching the College World Series for the first time in school history.
This season, the Horned Frogs don't have that one showcased star. But what they do possess is a team filled with guys that absolutely love playing for one another, and who, for now, are playing their best baseball of the season.
TCU once was a team with so many injuries that Schlossnagle didn't know what to think about the rest of the season, except for things would at least get somewhat better from a consistency standpoint.
Now the Frogs are two wins away from another CWS berth.
"I told the team after Friday's loss that there's going to be at least one team in the NCAA postseason that would win this thing after losing the first game," he said. "It's really been fun to watch this evolve."