By Wendell Barnhouse | email@example.com
A year ago, the three Big 12 Conference teams that are in Omaha for the 2014 College World Series were using the old Brooklyn Dodgers’ mantra of “Wait ‘til next year.”
In 2013, TCU, Texas Tech and Texas finished seventh, eighth and ninth. The calendar flipped to 2014 and all three teams are in contention for a national championsip.
For the Horned Frogs and the Longhorns, failing to reach the NCAA Tournament was a bitter reality for two programs accustomed to post-season play.
The Red Raiders had completed their first season under new coach Tim Tadlock and had a young roster. But Tadlock was not about using inexperience as a crux.
When he took the job on June 8, 2012 he recalled a conversation. “It wasn’t too long ago, it has been about seven years, that a man told me, ‘Texas Tech can’t go to Omaha,’” Tadlock said at his introductory news conference. “Well guess what? We are about to find out. I believe that.”
The reality is that Texas is making its 35 CWS appearance (the other seven teams in Omaha have combined for 18) and will face UC Irvine at 2 p.m. Saturday in the opener. TCU and Texas Tech, thanks to the happenstance of bracketing, will meet at 2 p.m. Sunday. The Red Raiders, accomplishing their coach’s vision by making the school’s first trip to Omaha.
The last time the Big 12 had three teams in Omaha was 2005 and the Longhorns won their sixth and most recent title that year.
“It’s kind of cool with a mini-Big 12 tournament out there,” UT outfielder Mark Payton said. “We got to play against some of the best competition this year, which is in our own conference.”
The Big 12 was second to the Southeastern Conference in the Ratings Percentage Index. The Big 12 had five teams in the 64-team bracket, four advanced to host Super Regionals and three won. The SEC placed 10 teams in the bracket and have two teams (Vanderbilt and Ole Miss) in Omaha.
TCU is one of the nation’s hottest teams. Since April 1, the Horned Frogs have won 32 of their last 36 games. They lead the nation in ERA and come off the emotion of a clutch two-run rally to win the Fort Worth Super Regional. Catcher Kyle Bacak’s suicide squeeze bunt provided the winning run against Pepperdine.
“Offensively, our whole mindset is to just scrap and get whatever runs we can for our incredible pitching staff,” Bacak said. “We feel like if we get three runs, it’ll be hard for someone to get four on us.”
All three Big 12 teams have strong and deep pitching staffs. That could be an advantage at TD Ameritrade Park. Only 22 homers have been hit in the three years since it became the new home of the CWS and only three round trippers were hit last season.
“It’s going to be hard to score guys in from second base with one out, because it’s such a big place,” TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle said. “The ball doesn’t carry and the outfielders play so shallow.”
Texas made it to Omaha in 2011 but missed the post-season the last two seasons with last year’s ninth-place Big 12 finish serving as the nadir for coach Augie Garrido in Austin. UT started this season strong and had a number of significant non-conference victories but were swept at home by TCU which started a slump that included seven losses in 11 games.
The stretch pushed the Longhorns down in the standings but it was obvious at the Phillips 66 Big 12 Baseball Championship that Garrido liked how his team had responded and recovered.
“The biggest challenge has already been accomplished by the team,” Garrido said. “Not the winning. The bonding has taken place. That’s not going to break.”
Even without staff ace Dillon Peters, who is shut down with an arm injury, Texas won the Houston Regional and then beat Houston – No. 2 in the RPI – in two games in the Super Regional. Over the past 14 games Texas is hitting .301 with nine home runs and averaging 5.14 runs a game. The Longhorns are 26-2 when scoring five runs or more this season.
“It means we’re two-thirds of the way there,” Texas reliever John Curtiss said. “We won the Regional, won the Super Regional. Now we need to go to Omaha and win that.”
Texas Tech’s pitching staff has the best ERA for a Red Raiders team in over 40 years but it has been even better in the post-season. In six NCAA games, Texas Tech has an ERA of 0.65. The Red Raiders won both Super Regional games by 1-0 scores.
On Aug. 27, the Red Raiders got a text message from Tadlock with two photos. One was a picture of Ameritrade Park, the other was the statue at the park that depicts a celebratory dog pile with the words “The Road To Omaha.”
“Why not?” Tadlock said when asked this week about his motivational methods. “Why not dream big? We try not to make more out of it than it really is, and absolutely, we’ve earned the right to go. We’re looking forward to the opportunity to compete and the challenge of going up there against whoever we play.”
Conference: Big 12.
Coach: Augie Garrido.
How they got here: Won Houston Regional: beat Texas A&M 8-1, beat Rice 3-2 (11 inn.), lost to Texas A&M 3-2, beat Texas A&M 4-1. Won Austin Super Regional: beat Houston 4-2, beat Houston 4-0.
History lesson: Texas has made 35 CWS appearances, the most recent in 2011. Texas has won six national championships and has an 82-57 record in Omaha.
Top players: C Tres Barrera (.275, 5 HRs, 35 RBIs), 1B Kacy Clemens (.220, 1, 18), 2B Brooks Marlow (.279, 3, 19), 3B Zane Gurwitz (.279, 2, 26), SS C.J. Hinojosa (.300, 1, 33), LF Ben Johnson (.271, 6, 32), CF Mark Payton (.326, 2, 38), RF Collin Shaw (.257, 0, 23), DH Madison Carter (.347, 1, 11). RHP Nathan Thornhill (8-2, 1.57), RHP Parker French (6-5, 2.45), RHP Lukas Schiraldi (7-3, 4.08), RHP Chad Hollingsworth (3-0, 1.36), RHP Morgan Cooper (4-2, 2.98), RHP John Curtiss (2-2, 2.06, 9 saves).
You need to know: Senior OF Mark Payton has reached base in 101 consecutive games, a streak that started last season. … Payton was named third team All-American by Baseball America. … Coach Augie Garrido is making his 15th appearance in the CWS (38-20 record). The winningest coach in college baseball history (1,917 career victories). … The opening game with UC Irvine matches coaches with 1,000-plus victories as Anteaters coach Mike Gillespie (who previously coached at USC) has won 1,036 in 26 seasons. … The Texas pitching staff ranks sixth nationally with a 2.32 ERA. … The Longhorns have turned 67 double plays which is tied for fourth nationally. … In six NCAA games, sophomore shortstop C.J. Hinojosa is hitting .476 (10-21) with a team-high six RBIs. … Texas ranks second in RPI and has played the fourth-most difficult schedule in the country.
UC Irvine Anteaters
Conference: Big West.
Coach: Mike Gillespie.
How they got here: Won Corvallis Regional: beat UNLV 10-3, beat Oregon State 14-2, lost to Oregon State 4-0, beat Oregon State 4-2. Won Stillwater Super Regional: beat Oklahoma State 8-4, beat Oklahoma State 1-0.
History lesson: one appearance (2007), 2-2.
Top players: C Jerry McClanahan (.320, 1 HR, 36 RBIs), 1B Connor Spencer (.370, 1, 44), 2B Grant Palmer (.267, 0, 13), 3B Taylor Sparks (.307, 5, 34), SS Chris Rabago (.252, 0, 19), LF Adam Alcantara (.315, 8, 17), CF Justin Castro (.244, 0, 8), RF Kris Paulino (.214, 5, 24), DH Jonathan Munoz (.293, 0, 17), RHP Andrew Morales (11-2, 1.53), LHP Elliot Surrey (8-4, 1.99), RHP Evan Brock (8-6, 3.16). HP Sam Moore (0-3, 1.88, 23 saves), LHP Evan Manarino (4-3, 2.83), LHP Jimmy Litchfield (3-2,3.58).
You need to know: The only two previous meetings with Texas came in the Round Rock Regional when the Anteaters beat UT twice on their way to their only CWS appearance. … UC Irvine has won five of its last six after losing eight of nine to finish regular season ... Five graduating seniors will miss President Barack Obama’s UC Irvine commencement address, which will coincide with the CWS opener against Texas ... Senior right hander Andrew Morales is tied for first nationally with 136 strikeouts ... Morales (second team) and reliever Sam Moore (first team) earned All-America honors from the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association. Moore leads the NCAA in saves (23) and is one save away from tying the national record. … The Anteaters broke the Big West Conference’s four-year CWS drought, the longest in the conference’s 44-year history.
TCU Horned Frogs
Conference: Big 12.
Coach: Jim Schlossnagle.
How they got here: Won Fort Worth Regional: beat Siena 2-1, beat Sam Houston State 3-2 (22 inn.), beat Sam Houston State 6-1. Won Fort Worth Super Regional: beat Pepperdine 3-2, lost to Pepperdine 3-2, beat Pepperdine 6-5.
History lesson: TCU has made one appearance in Omaha. The Horned Frogs went 3-2 in 2010.
Top players: C Kyle Bacak (.269, 0 HRs, 18 RBIs), 1B Kevin Cron (.279, 5, 40), 2B Garrett Crain (.335, 1, 19), 3B Derek Odell (.280, 1, 35), SS Keaton Jones (.268, 0, 20), LF Boomer White (.318, 2, 46), CF Cody Jones (.269, 0, 17), RF Dylan Fitzgerald (.318, 2, 33), DH Jerrick Suiter (.278, 0, 29), RHP Preston Morrison (9-4, 1.32), LHP Brandon Finnegan (9-3, 2.12), LHP Tyler Alexander (10-3, 2.16), RHP Jordan Kipper (8-2, 3.10), RHP Trey Teakell (6-0, 2.22), LHP Alex Young (1-3, 2.53), RHP Riley Ferrell (2-1, 0.68, 15 saves).
You need to know: The Horned Frogs lead the nation in ERA at 2.19. In the post-season, TCU’s bullpen has a 0.64 ERA and has not allowed a run in the last 28.2 innings ... Catcher Kyle Bacak has reached base in 18 straight games and right fielder Dylan Fitzgerald has an on-base streak of 17 in a row ... TCU has 14 shutouts, which is a Big 12 record and second in the NCAA (LSU has 17). … On March 30, TCU’s team batting average was .265. Since then, during the current stretch where the team has won 32 of 36 games, the Frogs hare hitting .296 as a team. … The Frogs have stolen 89 bases, more than double last year’s total of 38, while laying down 60 sacrifice bunts…. TCU and Virginia are the only national seeds to reach the CWS. The Frogs are the No. 7 seed.
Texas Tech Red Raiders
Conference: Big 12.
Coach: Tim Tadlock.
How they got here: Won Coral Gables Regional: beat Columbia 3-2, beat Miami 3-0, lost 2-1 (10 inn.) to Miami, beat Miami 4-0. Won Lubbock Super Regional: beat College of Charleston 1-0, beat College of Charleston 1-0.
History lesson: Texas Tech is making its first appearance in Omaha. The Red Raiders are making their 10th NCAA appearance.
Top players: C Hunter Redman (.257, 0 HRs, 17 RBIs), 1B Eric Gutierrez (.312, 12, 58), 2B Bryant Burleson (.275, 2, 37), 3B Ryan Long (.207, 0, 22), SS Tim Proudfoot (.317, 0, 19), LF Tyler Neslony (.388, 4, 32), CF Devon Conley (.271, 0, 8), RF Stephen Smith (.282, 1, 20), DH Adam Kirsch (.300, 10, 51), LHP Chris Sadberry (5-3, 3.17), LHP Dylan Dusek (8-0, 1.94), LHP Cameron Smith (8-2, 2.81), RHP Corey Taylor (5-3, 2.62), RHP Ryan Moseley (1-2, 3.32), RHP Dominic Moreno (4-5, 3.14), LHP Jonny Drozd (7-0, 2.00, 5 saves).
You need to know: Texas Tech’s pitchers have shut out the last three opponents and have shutouts in four of five NCAA games. The team’s ERA is 0.65 in six NCAA games. The starters have a streak of 36 consecutive scoreless innings. … The Red Raiders’ 3.17 ERA is the program’s best since 1971. … Texas Tech won two 1-0 games in the Super Regional. Prior to that, in the Super Regional Era (since 1999) there had been a total of just four 1-0 games. … Outfielder Tyler Neslony has reached base in 36 consecutive games. … Freshman outfielder Stephen Smith was a member of the 2007 Lubbock Western Little League team that finished runner-up in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, during the Little League World Series. … As a senior at Texas Tech in 1991, Tim Tadlock was the team’s starting shortstop and the Red Raiders won 41 games – the first 40-win season in school history.
Conference: American Athletic.
Coach: Dan McConnell.
How they got here: Won Louisville Regional: beat Kent State 5-0, beat Kansas 6-3, beat Kentucky 4-1. Won Louisville Super Regional: beat Kennesaw State 5-3, beat Kennesaw State 7-4.
History lesson: 2 appearances (2007, 2013), 1-4.
Top players: C Kyle Gibson (.319, 1 HR, 20 RBIs), 1B Grant Kay (.289, 5, 35), 2B Zach Lucas (.268, 5, 44), 3B Alex Chittenden (.291, 1, 30), SS Sutton Whiting (.212, 2, 17), LF Jeff Gardner (.321, 9, 68), CF Cole Sturgeon (.331, 2, 34), RF Colin Lyman (.265, 0, 16), DH Nick Solak (.267, 2, 24), RHP Kyle Funkhouser (13-2, 1.73), RHP Jared Ruxer (7-1, 2.27), RHP Anthony Kidston (9-0, 3.54), LHP Kyle McGrath (2-1, 1.38), RHP Cole Sturgeon (3-0, 1.98), RHP Nick Burdi (3-1, 0.51, 18 saves).
You need to know: Louisville enters the CWS ranked second in the nation in stolen bases with 132 and third in stolen bases per game at 2.03. … The Cardinals are 43-0 this season when leading after the eighth inning and has won 98 straight games when entering the ninth with the lead going back to May 2012. … Starter Kyle Funkhouser is tied for the NCAA lead in wins with 13; no pitcher at the CWS has won more. … Coach Dan McConnell is in his eighth season as Louisville’s coach. He has a 359-157 record and is the winningest coach in school history. … Louisville has won 23 of its last 27 games and over that 27-game stretch the pitching staff’s ERA is 2.35 with 235 strikeouts in 241 innings. … Louisville is only team returning from 2013 CWS and is the only one of the eight teams to reach Omaha in 2013 to make it to his season’s Super Regional round.
Coach: Tim Corbin.
How they got here: Won Nashville Regional: beat Xavier 11-0, beat Oregon 7-2, beat Oregon 3-2. Won Nashville Super Regional: beat Stanford 11-6, lost to Stanford 5-4, beat Stanford 12-5.
History lesson: one appearance (2011) 2-2.
Top players: C Jason Delay (.272, 0 HR, 13 RBIs), 1B Zander Wiel (.274, 5, 41), 2B Dansby Swanson (.335, 3, 32), 3B Xavier Turner (.283, 2, 37), SS Vince Conde (.303, 4, 47), LF Bryan Reynolds (.343, 4, 52), CF John Norwood (.285, 2, 26), RF Rhett Wiseman (.274, 0, 28), DH Karl Ellison (.237, 0, 9), RHP Tyler Beede (8-7, 3.58), RHP Carson Fulmer (6-1, 1.78, 10 saves), RHP Walker Buehler (11-2, 2.39), RHP Tyler Ferguson (8-3, 2.51), LHP Ben Bowden (1-1, 1.82), RHP Hayden Stone (2-0, 1.64), RHP Adam Ravenelle (3-2, 1.56), RHP Brian Miller (1-1, 1.82), RHP TJ Pecoraro (1-1, 8.15).
You need to know: Pitcher Tyler Beede is the highest-drafted player in the CWS, going 14th overall to the San Francisco Giants ... Freshman outfielder Bryan Reynolds was 8 for 12 with three RBIs in the super regional. … In six NCAA games, Reynolds is 13-for-25 with three doubles and eight RBI. He leads the offense in hitting, (.343), hits (86), RBI (52), total bases (124), slugging (.494), and doubles (24). … In the CWS opener, the Commodores will face Louisville, the team that knocked them out of last year’s NCAA tournament by winning the Nashville Super Regional. … Senior pitchers T.J. Pecoraro and Steven Rice are the only two current players who were on Vanderbilt’s 2011 team that made the CWS. Neither made the trip as Pecoraro was out with an injury and Rice wasn’t selected for the travel roster.
Ole Miss Rebels
Coach: Mike Bianco.
How they got here: Won Oxford Regional: beat Jacksonville State 12-2, beat Washington 2-1, beat Washington 3-2 (10 inn.) Won Oxford Super Regional: lost to Louisiana-Lafayette 9-5, beat Louisiana-Lafayette 5-2, beat Louisiana-Lafayette 10-4.
History lesson: 4 appearances (56-64-69-72). 3-8.
Top players: C Will Allen (.345, 7 HRs, 61 RBIs), 1B Sikes Orvis (.295, 14, 51), 2B Preston Overbey (.269, 4, 34), 3B Austin Anderson (.331, 5, 41), SS Errol Robinson (.299, 0, 19), LF Braxton Lee (.290, 0, 24), CF Auston Bousfield (.349, 6, 50), RF J.B. Woodman (.308, 2, 20), DH Colby Bortles (.262, 2, 14), RHP Chris Ellis (10-2, 2.45), LHP Christian Trent (9-0, 2.21), RHP Sam Smith (5-4, 3.45), LHP Jeremy Massie (4-3, 2.77), RHP Scott Weathersby (3-1, 2.00), RHP Aaron Greenwood (3-1, 1.96), RHP Josh Laxer (2-2, 1.32, 6 saves).
You need to know: The Rebels were picked sixth in the seven-team Southeastern Conference West Division but finished first. ... Right-handed starter Chris Ellis was first of nine Rebels drafted, going to Angels as 88th overall pick, and was among two weekend starters in the SEC to go undefeated in the regular season ... Ole Miss’ .303 batting average is best among the CWS teams ... Sikes Orvis’ 14 homers is the most of any player in Omaha. … The Rebels are 29-11 this season when scoring first. … Senior catcher Will Allen is one of 12 finalists for the Gregg Olson Award presented annually to the breakout college player of the year. Allen is also one of three finalists for the Johnny Bench Award that is given to the nation’s top collegiate catcher. … Ole Miss is 12-8 in one-run games this season.
Conference: Atlantic Coast.
Coach: Brian O’Connor.
How they got here: Won Charlottesville Regional: beat Bucknell 10-1, beat Arkansas 3-0, beat Arkansas 9-2. Won Charlottesville Super Regional: lost to Maryland 5-4, beat Maryland 7-3, beat Maryland 11-2.
History lesson: Virginia two appearances (2009, 2011), 3-4.
Top players: C Robbie Coman (.271, 1 HR, 13 RBIs), 1B Mike Papi (.311, 11, 54), 2B Branden Cogswell (.292, 0, 21), 3B Kenny Towns (.273, 2, 33), SS Daniel Pinero (.266, 0, 19), LF Derek Fisher (.285, 3, 26), CF Brandon Downes (.233, 7, 37), RF Joe McCarthy (.305, 6, 46), DH John La Prise (.368, 1, 15), RHP Nathan Kirby (9-2, 1.73), LHP Brandon Waddell (9-3, 2.66), RHP Josh Sborz (5-4, 3.04), RHP Artie Lewicki (6-1, 1.59), RHP Connor Jones (4-1, 3.13), RHP Austin Young (1-0, 2.01), RHP Alec Bettinger (6-0, 1.23), RHP Nick Howard (2-1, 2.05, 19 saves), RHP Whit Mayberry (6-1, 1.59).
You need to know: Along with No. 7 TCU, No. 3 Virginia is the only national seed still playing. … The Cavaliers are allowing nation-low 6.5 hits a game, and its 2.31 ERA ranks fifth. Their .982 fielding percentage ranks third and is best among CWS teams. … Virginia hopes to become the first Atlantic Coast Conference team since 1955 to win in Omaha. … Sophomore righty Nathan Kirby struck out 18 in throwing a no-hitter at Pittsburgh in early April. He led the ACC in ERA and had 11 consecutive quality starts to start the season. … The Cavaliers are No. 1 in RPI. … Virginia coach Brian O’Connor grew up in Council Bluffs, Iowa, which is just across the Missouri River from Omaha. He pitched for Creighton’s 1991 CWS team and was an assistant coach for Notre Dame’s 2002 team that played in Omaha.