A year ago, I flew up to Omaha to watch TCU take on Coastal Carolina, knowing they needed just one singular win to advance to the championship series. It was my first time in Baseball’s Promised Land, my first time experiencing TCU in the College World Series, and, sadly, my first time seeing TCU eliminated from the postseason.
We all know how that weekend went; the Frogs lost a pair of games to the Chants and were one of two teams that won their first two games before being eliminated in the final weekend. And now, here we sit again, on the other side of that scenario, the underdog team hoping to pull off the impossible and win two games against a top team with our backs against the wall. I don’t know about you, but I like our chances.
How to Watch:
7:00 PM | TV: ESPN | Radio: 88.7 KTCU/SiriusXM 84 | Internet: Watch ESPN
Mitchell Traver gets the call for at least one more game as a Horned Frog, as the senior who has overcome so much takes the mound hoping to keep TCU’s season alive. Traver, who came back mid-season from injury and scuffled early, has been nails in the post-season. Traver’s two most recent starts were 7.0 innings of four hit, one run ball against Kansas, where he struck out eight and walked just one, and a 7.0 inning effort against Central Connecticut that saw him mow down nine and walk just one, allowing one run on one hit. He will face a Florida lineup that isn’t super potent offensively, but takes advantage of mistakes to scratch runs across.
On the other side, Florida’s Jackson Kowar will start, he of the 12-0 record and 4.00 ERA. He’s not to the level of an Alex Faedo or Brady Singer, but the Gators just flat out don’t lose when he’s on the mound. Kowar, who stands 6’5”, runs his fastball into the mid-90’s with regularity to go with a low-80’s change and a nasty splitter. The righty’s season ended early due to a non-baseball injury a season ago (he had a collapsed lung and some other issues in high school), but he was been exceptional in 2017. He’s struck out 73 in 101.1 innings, while walking only 42. He pitches to contact more than his two counterparts, but has equally as electric stuff, and will be another tough challenge for a TCU offense that hasn’t been exactly explosive in Omaha.
Florida has scored eight runs in Omaha, which has been plenty, as they have allowed just one. Batting .261 on the year, the Gators aren’t going to blow you away in the box, and they haven’t needed it with their elite pitching staff. They drew five walks against TCU in addition to the nine hits, scored four runs, and struck out just seven times. Dalton Guthrie and Nelson Maldonado led the charge with two apiece, but Maldonado rolled his ankle against TCU and jammed his shoulder against the Cardinals, making him nowhere near 100%. His defense will be something to watch in the outfield this evening as well. Florida averages just under 5.5 runs per game, and they’ve stolen 82 bags in 110 attempts. Keeping them from getting a cheap bag, or getting into scoring position from free bases, is the key.
The TCU dugout hasn’t produced too much action on offense so far in Omaha, scoring eight runs through three games, including the shutout in the opener against Florida. Ryan Merrill has been the Frogs’ best hitter in his hometown, having a hit in each game he’s played, with two runs scored and three RBIs, including a home run against the Aggies. Connor Wanhanen might be the hottest, as he’s strung together some quality at bats, including a single and double last night. Elliott Barzilli and Cam Warner are the only other two Frogs to have multi-hit games. The most important bats in the lineup, Austen Wade and Evan Skoug, have yet to get it going - Wade is 1 for Omaha with a pair of walks and three Ks. Skoug has a double to his name, but has struck out seven times and drawn just one walk - of the intentional variety last night - as he struggles to find his swing. Of note, his bat was disqualified before the tournament, for being too banged up (this is not made up, I promise), and he has tried both the bats of Luken Baker and Evan Williams trying to find some magic. At some point, a hitter that good has to break out, and the Frogs hope it’s this weekend as they try and fight their way to the title series.
What tonight comes down to, in my opinion, is the Frogs taking good swings at good pitches, not wasting strikes, finding ways to get on base, and not running themselves out of innings once there. Mitchell Traver will need to give an outstanding performance that saves the pen, going seven innings before turning it over to, likely, Durbin Feltman for a two inning save. It will be another close, nail-biting, stress inducing affair, but we have plenty of experience in those. Go Frogs. Let’s play on.