If you were too busy watching the Dallas Mavericks implode against the Clippers in Game 7, you might have, and probably gratefully, missed Horned Frogs baseball experience their own Sunday struggles. Coach Jim Schlossnagle’s diamond Frogs, who couldn’t overcome Kansas State in their final regular season game, relegating them to co-conference champions with Texas, bounced back confidently during the Big 12 tournament.
TCU faced KSU again during their opening round in Oklahoma City, a game that TCU survived by a single run, thanks to a pair of hits in the bottom of the ninth for a walk-off victory by the second-seeded Frogs. Their next game, against Texas Tech, was delayed for weather and fulfilled the next morning when the bats caught fire to bring the Red Raiders to their knees 7-2. The Wildcats, despite losing to the prettier purple in the opening round, were fighting their way through the losers bracket and stubbornly furrowed their fur again and took advantage of a scoring-impaired TCU, who lost 2-5 to force a win-or-go-home situation in a follow-up contest with the Cats. The Frogs leaned heavily on their offense during a defensively forgettable performance and simply held batting and base running practice. Schlossnagle’s squad scored seven runs in each the first and last innings to down the Wildcats by the eighth, accumulating 17 runs on as many hits in the process.
Demons exorcised. The OK State Cowboys waited in the finals and surrendered the lead early before slamming down an impressive five-run third inning to regain it. TCU battled back with a five-run fifth inning that proved enough cushion to be scoreless during their remaining opportunities and still win 10-7 to take the conference tournament trophy.
All that remained was tensely waiting for the national seating and regional host assignments. The Frogs, who have hosted many regionals in the past, seemed to receive the benefit of the doubt despite an objectively inconsistent finish to their season as the sixth seed. The Fort Worth regional, hosted by TCU, welcomed Dallas Baptist, Oregon State, and McNeese State to vie for a spot in a super-regional on the road to the College World Series. Four teams from the Big 12 advanced to the postseason. Texas, the second seed, and Texas Tech with an eight seed, both hosted regionals of their own. The Cowboys were the only at-large Big 12 school to advance and traveled to Tucson to compete with five-seed Arizona.
Everything started according to Frog desires last Friday as TCU bashed McNeese State 12-4, despite trailing 2-1 heading into the stretch. The Frogs scored 11 runs between the seventh and eighth innings and kept our purple men secure heading into Saturday in the double-elimination format. The next obstacles were the crosstown Dallas Baptist Patriots, stand-alone champions of the Missouri Valley Conference and their conference tourney. Perennial Fort Worth fans aren’t strangers to the Pats as they generally play the Frogs two or three times per year in midweek home games but never a series. The Patriots didn’t make the schedule this year, and, in retrospect, that sucks. DBU took the lead in the second inning before TCU stole it back in the fourth and extended their lead through the sixth and seventh, thanks to two long balls and clutch base hitting. A 6-2 lead in the bottom of the seventh felt safe before fielding errors in consecutive innings allowed six total runs to score to send the hosts to the dreaded elimination bracket. The Frogs had arrived on the hot seat and would need to win both Sunday games to have a chance at prolonging their season. The Oregon State Beavers, fifth place out of the PAC-12, stood in their way.
A first-inning walk and base hit off the Beaver defense allowed the Toads to showcase their base-running prowess with a simultaneous second-base and home-plate steal to gain an early lead. A lead-off double in the third by catcher Zach Humphreys — who stole home earlier — put TCU in position to score again, and they did, thanks to a sacrifice fly. Sadly, TCU wouldn’t register another hit until the bottom of the eighth, and Oregon State knotted the score at 2 during the fifth inning. TCU’s senior reliever Haylen Green started the bottom of the ninth by beaning his first batter, who then stole second to take scoring position. Green retired the next Beaver before surrendering a single up the middle to give up what would be a season-ending run. TCU’s hitting drought continued into the ninth, and TCU lost 3-2.
Frog fielding can’t be blamed after they surrendered only three runs on 11 hits. Pitching and batting must take the brunt for the blasphemous final game in which a previously dominant purple lineup cobbled together three measly hits. Oregon State moved on to beat DBU once, before the Patriots avenged to secure the regional crown and move on to face Virginia in a super-regional.
Despite winning a co-conference championship and conference tournament title, last weekend’s regional performance was unfortunate optics for a team who was ranked as high as third nationally this season. TCU was the top-seeded team who lost their regional and joined Louisiana Tech, Oregon, Florida, and South Carolina as hosts without the most. The only objectively worse performance by a seeded squad was Florida, who didn’t win a game at their Gainesville Regional. To add insult, both the Longhorns and Red Raiders cruised undefeated through their brackets and will host super-regionals. The Red Raiders invite nine-seed Stanford for what should be a contentious three-game series, while the Longhorns welcome the unseeded South Florida Bulls. TCU would have been in a similar position could they have won and would have hosted unseeded Virginia, who emerged from the Columbia regional and been a defeatable opponent en route to a College World Series appearance that could have been. Other than the Big 12 tournament, these Frogs stayed true to who they’ve been almost all season: all the trappings of a great team, but when they need to kick performance into high gear, they simply can’t find the clutch.
Despite the disappointments of last weekend, the regional shortcomings of this year’s Frogs vanish into a footnote with Wednesday’s announcement that Jim Schlossnagle will not return for his 19th season as Horned Frogs head coach. Instead, he’ll be transferring his talents to Aggieland. Schlossnagle has proved a benchmark of baseball success, leading his Frogs to five College World Series appearances while accumulating more than 750 wins. He has bested the Aggies specifically during multiple memorable playoff appearances, but it seems the allure of the SEC has finally overcome Schloss. The reality of replacing a long-tenured and highly successful coach is not easy, but inevitable, and is something Frog fanatics will need to come to terms with quickly as it becomes the reality for other purple programs. Long coaching stints are a luxury that Fort Worthians have been blessed with but are not the norm for many programs at the top of the pyramid. Finding a replacement should be embraced as TCU attempts to evolve from their role as a major program who is stuck in the above-average category.