TCU basks in glory of first-ever CWS trip
AUSTIN, Texas -- Jim Schlossnagle watched last year's College World Series on a TV in his office between sessions teaching future Horned Frogs hopefuls at baseball camp. His sophomore center fielder, Aaron Schultz, spent June traipsing through North Carolina playing summer baseball in front of modest crowds.
Schlossnagle won't get to watch much of the event on TV this year. None at all, if things go his way.
Schultz will trade the East Coast for the cornfields of Nebraska and sold-out crowds of 25,000-plus.
With a 4-1 victory over Texas in front of 7,356 fans at UFCU Disch-Falk Stadium, TCU is going to its first College World Series.
"Omaha's the pearly gates of my profession; it's the pearly gates of college baseball," said Schlossnagle, who has built a Mountain West juggernaut in seven seasons in Fort Worth. The Horned Frogs have won the conference the past four seasons, and they won Conference USA twice before that.
"To be the first at something is incredibly special to be somewhere where it's never been done before and do it, that's what we've been preaching for seven years of recruiting, and it's finally come to fruition."
It's more than just the first World Series for TCU. It's the first series for sophomore pitcher Kyle Winkler, who allowed just five hits and struck out six in 7 2/3 innings Sunday to earn the win. It's the first series for sophomore left fielder Jason Coats, who poked a single through first and second base in the bottom of the fifth inning to put the Horned Frogs up 1-0.
And it's the first series for Schultz and senior catcher Bryan Holaday, who slammed rare home runs off star reliever Chance Ruffin over the left-field wall toward the really cheap seats. The group of Longhorns fans set up in the back of four truck beds to see the action inside the stadium showed their displeasure by tossing one of the home runs back onto the turf at the stadium they affectionately call "The Dish."
"It's a historic day for TCU," Schlossnagle said.
Schultz's ninth home run of the season came in the bottom of the seventh, and he followed it up by robbing Texas' Tant Shepherd of a leadoff hit in the eighth with a running, over-the-shoulder catch to keep the bases empty.
"Even though my body was worn down from this season and the hot weather," Schultz said. "My legs just felt great because all that adrenaline was running I felt like I was flying."
A year after their season ended on the same field at the hands of their in-state rival, the Horned Frogs capped the super regional with a traditional dogpile in an untraditional location. The Horned Frogs relocated their celebration to center field, on top of the Longhorns logo that represented the cause of their sorrow from last year's Game 3 loss in the Austin Super Regional. Teammates handed out countless hugs before singing the fight song with two pockets of purple inside the orange-clad stadium while the Texas fans sang a broken-hearted version of "The Eyes of Texas."
"This year, we just wanted to come back here and let them know how it feels, and have them see us go to Omaha," Schultz said.
The emotion slipped out from the start of Sunday's decisive Game 3. Thrice after escaping jams with his shutout intact -- including in the first inning -- Winkler ran back to the dugout with fist-clenched, red-faced screams, determined not to let last season's failure repeat itself. That or Saturday's game, when the Longhorns got to starter Steven Maxwell early and forced Game 3 with a 14-1 win.
"There are some programs out there that it seems like it's their birthright to get to go. But if we wanted to go, we were going to have to go earn it," Schlossnagle said. "I could see it in their face yesterday; they kind of got kicked in the rear end, and we didn't handle it that well. We backed off, and I'd never seen us be like that. And I said, 'You better grab on to your shoestrings and your jockstrap, pull them a little tighter, step in that box and be ready to fight.'"
The Sunday game's final out, a routine grounder to second base that Jerome Pena fielded cleanly and tossed to first base, was captured from the dugout on a handheld camera by a team manager intent on immortalizing the program's finest moment in one of the game's most difficult venues. But with a handful of wins in Omaha, the Horned Frogs' celebration in the Austin sunset could become a distant memory.
"I don't know what it's like to win a national championship; I've never been a part of that," Schlossnagle said. "But if there's anything better than this, it's certainly that."
David Ubben covers college sports for ESPN.com.