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Big 12 Championship Preview: TCU vs West Virginia

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The Frogs have fought their way to the championship game, hoping to securing a regional host spot with a win. To get there they'll have to get past the hottest team in the conference, West Virginia.

Evan Skoug chats up Jared Janzack at the mound during Saturday's game against Texas
Evan Skoug chats up Jared Janzack at the mound during Saturday's game against Texas
Melissa Triebwasser

TCU had some trouble putting away Texas yesterday, needing two games to eliminate them. But in the end they completed their revenge tour, and defeated three of the four teams that won series against them during the regular season. The only team that the Frogs won't get a shot at revenge with is Texas Tech, but that's because West Virginia and Oklahoma already took care of them.

The Big 12 Tournament is set up almost exactly like the CWS. Eight teams split up into two groups of four and play a double-elimination tournament. Then, the winners of each bracket face each other to determine the champion. The only difference between the CWS and the Big 12 Tournament in terms of format is that the CWS championship is a best of three series, while the Big 12 Tournament championship is just one game. More simply put, Sunday's game between the Frogs and Mountaineers is for all the marbles.

TCU's run through this tournament has been a wild ride. The Frogs have homered in every game except a 2-1 loss to Texas in the first game of two played against the Longhorns yesterday. TCU won the second of those two games 8-2, giving the Longhorn's their second loss and dropping them from the double-elimination bracket-play portion of the tournament, which sent them home.

In that game the Frogs trailed 2-1 in the bottom of the fifth inning, but Luken Baker broke the game open with a three-run homer to put the Frogs up 4-2. Brian Howard gave TCU all the pitching they needed to keep control of the game, throwing six innings and allowing just two runs on five hits while striking out five and walking two. Brian Trieglaff shut the door with three shutout innings, allowing four hits while striking out two with no walks. It was a great team win, but the spotlight has belonged to Baker this week. The Big 12 Freshman of the Year is 12-17 (.706 BA) in the tournament with a double, three homers, one walk, and nine RBIs.

Despite all of TCU's offensive numbers and star power, West Virginia's run to the championship has been arguably even more impressive. The Mountaineers starting pitchers lasted less than two innings in each of their first two games, and they won both of them. In their opening game against Oklahoma, Michael Grove had to leave after just 1/3 inning, and was relieved by Ross Vance, who pitched 8 2/3 innings of shutout baseball leading to a 6-0 win over the Sooners. Against Texas Tech, Chad Donato lasted just 1 1/3 innings, giving way to a 4 2/3 innings performance by BJ Myers in which he allowed just two runs on two hits. That game against Tech was one of the best baseball games played this week, and West Virginia beat the Big 12 regular season champs 9-4 after pulling away with four runs in the seventh. On Saturday, West Virginia run-ruled Oklahoma 11-1 in seven innings to eliminate the Sooners and advance to the championship game.

TCU may have swept West Virginia earlier this season in Fort Worth, but this is not the same Vest Virginia team we saw two months ago. Over the last month or so of the season West Virginia has won 17 of their last 20 games, which makes them one of the hottest teams in the country. Even with an overall record of 36-21, the overall consensus is that West Virginia has to win the Big 12 tournament in order to earn a bid to the NCAA field of 64 teams that compete in the postseason tournament. Like in basketball, the winner of each conference's tournament earns an automatic bid.

It was 1996 the last time West Virginia appeared in the NCAA baseball tournament, so they have a lot to play for beyond just seeking their first Big 12 title. TCU is hoping that winning this tournament will convince the NCAA selection committee that they deserve to host one of the 16 regionals that will be played next weekend. So both teams have a lot on the line, and that makes for the best kind of baseball.