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TCU baseball: What to know for season-opener vs. Cal State Fullerton

Let the games begin.

NCAA Baseball: College World Series-Louisville vs TCU Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

TCU baseball gets the 2019 season rolling Friday afternoon when the No. 19 Horned Frogs take on No. 25 Cal State Fullerton in Scottsdale, Ariz. as part of the MLB4 Tournament.

The season-opener for Jim Schlossnagle & Co. is the first of three games against highly-rated competition this weekend in the desert. TCU also faces with 2015 national champion Virginia on Saturday before wrapping up the tournament on Sunday vs. No. 1 Vanderbilt.

Here’s a rundown of what to watch for Friday afternoon as the Horned Frogs begin their 17th season under Schlossnagle.

Take me out to the ballgame

Location: Salt Rivers Stadium — Scottsdale, Ariz.

First pitch: 2 p.m. CT

Radio: 87.7 FM KTCU

Live Stats Feed: MLB.com

Projected TCU starter: Nick Lodolo (Junior, LHP)

Projected CSUF starter: Tanner Bibee (Sophomore, RHP)

The rundown

After finishing an overall 33-23 in 2018 and missing the postseason — rather the College World Series — for the first time in half-a-decade, the page officially turns to a revamped TCU team Friday afternoon that looks to stay healthier than a year ago. Injuries to RHP Jared Janczak, closer Durbin Feltman and slugger Luken Baker — the latter two who since left Fort Worth after being drafted — all contributed to the Horned Frogs’ hurdles last spring.

But with Janczak back and healthy, TCU is poised to have a pair of aces that will highlight the team’s starting rotation this season. Lodolo — Friday’s starter — posted a 4.32 ERA with 99 strikeouts in 77 innings last season and was without a loss into Mid-March. And with another offseason to develop now under his belt, the Horned Frogs will be relying on him to bring the heat against one of three teams which Schlossnagle said could “all end up in the College World Series.”

Historically, Cal State Fullerton has been one of the most dominant programs in college baseball, never posting a losing season since going D-1 in 1975 and making 18 College World Series appearances — most recently alongside TCU in 2017. Though the Titans are only ranked No. 25 to open the season, Cal State Fullerton is the clear favorite to capture the Big West Title this spring.

Tanner Bibee — Friday’s projected starter for the Titans — posted a 3.86 ERA in 56 innings pitched as a freshman (19 games, 7 starts) and ended the season with 56 strikeouts, 11 of which came in Cal State Fullerton’s regional-clinching win over Stanford last June. Among other standouts is senior infielder Hank LoForte, who excelled in 2018 with a .339 batting average, .445 slugging percentage, 35 RBIs and a 45-game on-base streak.

Hit by a handful departures and graduations after 2018, there will be a considerable number of new faces for fans to get familiar with in TCU’s lineup, but left fielder Josh Watson — a former Arlington Martin High School product — is back in action for his senior season after being drafted No. 35 overall in 2018 by the Milwaukee Brewers. Watson was one of only two TCU players to start in all 56 games last season, and with .305 batting average and 65 hits, he’s set to be veteran, reliable force that Horned Frogs can count on to make up for any growing pains. Watson had 18 multi-hit games as a junior.