Knudson: Teaching Moments Come Early for TCU
By Mark Knudson, The Mtn. InsiderMarch 2, 2011
Most people involved in a high level of sports competition will tell you that it’s easier to reach the top of the heap than it is to stay there. It’s early in the 2011 college baseball season, but the TCU Horned Frogs are finding out already exactly how true that axiom is.
For the past few seasons, TCU has been knocking on the door - just a game or two away from national prominence. “Destination Omaha” was a rallying cry.
Then, last season, they made it.
A scintillating run in the College World Series, which included a game-winning grand slam, brought the Frogs to the brink of playing for the national championship. They fell just short, but with most of the key components returning for 2011, expectations were justifiably sky high for this year’s team.
Two preseason polls had TCU ranked No. 1 going into the season.
We’re now eight games in and TCU is no longer No. 1, having surrendered that perch after suffering a loss to Kansas in the finale of a season opening three game series. That was no big deal, but the following weekend provided a touch of frustration when the No. 9 ranked Cal State Fullerton Titans came to Fort Worth and took two of three games from the favored home team.
After that came a surprising 4-3 home loss to Dallas Baptist Tuesday night.
Like I said, it’s very early. These Frogs have certainly not been a flop. They sit at 4-4 after their second straight home defeat. They’ve had to deal with an injury to All-America pitcher Matt Purke, who missed the Fullerton series with a blister on his pitching hand. But they’ve also gotten stellar mound work from another All-America hurler, Kyle Winkler, as well as freshman Andrew Mitchell. Each has earned Mountain West Conference Pitcher of the Week honors already.
The replacement for all-everything catcher Bryan Holaday, Jimmie Pharr, has been solid, too. There has been plenty of good stuff so far.
And to be fair, if the Frogs were 6-2 right now rather than 4-4, no one would be batting an eye. However, the last two games that make such a difference in perception are the mid-week loss to DBU and the deciding game that gave Fullerton the series win last weekend at Lupton Stadium. Leading 1-0 after seven innings, the TCU bullpen gave up single runs in the eighth and ninth innings to drop the game and the series, 2-1.
After winning the first game of the high profile three game set behind a spectacular effort from Winkler, the Frogs lost the next two to lose their first series in over a year. It’s not a feeling they had much experience with and certainly weren’t expecting.
A teaching moment for the TCU coaching staff perhaps?
"The game is testing us right now,” said TCU Head Coach Jim Schlossnagle after the final game of the Fullerton series. “The whole season is about how you handle adversity, I told the guys that you can either fold or rise up and make it part of our story."
The thing about baseball is that you can’t get too high or too low about any one game or one series.
Coach Schlossnagle will make sure that the Fullerton series and the loss to Dallas Baptist each serve as a lesson for his team. It’s one thing to be the underdog chasing the big guys. It’s quite another to be the big guy and have to contend with everyone that’s aiming to take you down every single time out. TCU has and will get every team’s best shot all season long.
Heavy is the batting helmet that wears a nice big target.
There are many great moments to come for this team as well as a few more down turns before the season ends. They remain the prohibitive favorite to win the MWC. The post season remains all but a given. Hosting a regional and a super regional is certainly a reasonable goal. It will be an upset if they don’t earn a return ticket to Omaha in June. For all this to happen, however, they must better pass the “tests” Schlossnagle was referring to: Learning how to bounce back from disappointment and always being able to match the intensity of those who are chasing you.
All season long, TCU will be finding out exactly how much tougher it is to stay on top than it was to get there.
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