TCU has their work cut out for them this weekend, and that all begins with Oral Roberts on Friday night. The Fort Worth regional field is no cake walk, and, unlike some teams (looking at you Aggies), the Frogs won't get any free passes in the teams that they have to face to reach a super regional. After No. 2 seed Arizona State and No. 3 seed Gonzaga battle it out in the afternoon game, No. 1 seed TCU will take on No. 4 seed Oral Roberts in the night game.
Five years ago, Oral Roberts was the team that eliminated TCU from the 2011 Fort Worth regional. This will mark the first time they have returned to Lupton Stadium since that game. TCU beat Oral Roberts in the Friday night game of that tournament, but then suffered two straight losses to Dallas Baptist and Oral Roberts, which eliminated them. Dallas Baptist ended up winning that regional.
This year, Oral Roberts is coming into Lupton with a 38-19 overall record (22-8 in Summit Conference) and is coming straight off a conference championship win, the same as TCU. So far this year, ORU has a series win over Dallas Baptist, a road win over No. 6 national seed Mississippi State, two wins over Oklahoma State and a win over Oklahoma.
The pitching matchups for tonight's game have not yet been announced, but TCU will most likely see either the sophomore RHP Bryce Howe (3.73 ERA) or the senior RHP Nick Wood (2.36 ERA). They only have one lefty in their starting rotation, but with sophomore Taylor Varnell having thrown only 24 innings in six starts, TCU will likely get to face one of the righties, which they much prefer.
Both Howe and Wood have pitched upwards of 70 innings this year, and both have six wins in 15 and 13 starts respectively. Freshman righty Josh McMinn leads ORU in innings out of the bullpen with 63 in his 23 appearances this year. He is who oral Roberts would likely turn to with the lead. Lastly, ORU has a very good closer in junior RHP Brady Womacks. He has an ERA of 1.25 in 28 appearances over 36 innings. His 14 saves on the year are a school record and he has 28 strikeouts against 18 walks on the year.
TCU's pitching staff continues to struggle off and on, but last weekend in the Big 12 tournament there were a lot of positives. One of the biggest was the emergence of Jared Janzack as a starter. This has been a development over the last couple of weeks, but Janzack's 6 1/3 innings pitched against Texas on Saturday was his best performance so far. Having him available as a reliable fourth starter could be a big plus for TCU this postseason.
Schlossnagle has said that TCU will need to get better pitching to stay alive in the postseason, and they got that for most of the Big 12 tournament-- especially Saturday. Brian Howard joined Jared Janzack to pitch a gem of his own in the second game against Texas, going six innings himself while giving up just two run on five hits. The Frogs still really don't know what they have in Mitchell Traver, but aside from one bad inning against Oklahoma State, he pitched really well over the weekend as well. The only worry at the moment is freshman Dalton Horton, who was TCU's strongest starter for most of the season before struggling with short starts over the last month. He has gotten a lot of rest the last couple of weeks though, so maybe he is finally ready to get back in the groove.
This game will feature a matchup between two of the top 25 offensive teams in the nation; TCU is ranked 21st and ORU is ranked 24th. So, needless to say, Oral Roberts' lineup is very talented. Leading the team in hitting are sophomores Noah Cummings (.363 BA) and Matt Whatley (.358 BA). Cummings is tied for first on the team with 77 hits and is second in both doubles (17) and home runs (6). Six of those doubles came during the month of April when Cummings was hitting .407, with 14 RBIs and 14 runs scored over that period. Whatley leads the team with a .565 slugging percentage, managing 21 total extra base hits on the season including 10 doubles, three triples and eight home runs. Beyond those guys, keep an eye on senior Trevin Sonnier and junior Brent Williams. Sonnier is hitting .320 and leads the team with 10 stolen bases in 11 attempts. Williams is hitting .304 and is first on the team with 55 RBIs and is tied for first with eight home runs of his own.
The Frogs offense, which had been dormant for the better part of the month of May, came alive in a big way in the Big 12 tournament. They even broke a tournament record with 72 total hits over the weekend. A lot of that had to do with the individual performance of Luken Baker (.376 BA), who broke individual records for hits and runs in the tournament as well, with 15 and 10 respectively. Baker homered four times in the Big 12 tournament, including the game winner against West Virginia in the championship game. He has hit a home run in five of TCU's last 10 games, with eight total on the season.
Baker may be the biggest star, but he is one of many. Dane Steinhagen (.314 BA), Elliott Barzilli (.374 BA), Evan Skoug (.300 BA), Cam Warner (.307 BA) and Josh Watson (.280 BA, 11 HRs) each played the hero at one point or another during the tournament. Dane Steinhagen is the only one of the group that didn't get named to the 2016 Big 12 All-Tournament Team, but he is a senior leader who showed this young team how to grind in the latter part of the season. In doing so, he's raised his batting average up to .314 from around .280 over the last month or so.
The Frogs will face some really good competition this weekend, but despite what the RPI rankings might say about Texas, the same should be said about TCU from last weekend. They came out on top then, so what's to stop them from doing it again, and again, and again.