Regional Ready

COLLEGE STATION, Texas – Teams talk about the NCAA Regional being a new start. TCU Coach Jim Schlossnagle said it's that way for everybody.

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"There's 64 head coaches that said the same thing this week," said Schlossnagle, whose Horned Frogs face Ole Miss Friday at 12:35 p.m. in the opening game of the NCAA Regional here. "Coach (Mike) Martin (of Florida State) said on the selection show that it doesn't matter if you've lost your last 10 or won your last 10. To me you spend 56 games trying to get to this point and have your team ready to go. Then all bets are off. Now it's just who plays the best baseball."

His team has played some good baseball this year. It started in mid-February when Ole Miss came to Fort Worth. There were supposed to be three games, but the second day was a rainout. The Rebels won game one 7-4 on Friday; the Frogs won game two 5-3 on Sunday.

Every team has challenges, even at this point. TCU, 36-19, enters NCAA postseason play without its team leader, senior outfielder Jason Coats, who tore an ACL in the regular season finale. He missed the Mountain West Tournament and will have surgery at some point soon.

Coats, first-team All-Conference, is batting .326 to lead the team with 45 RBI and 13 doubles. He was second on the team in home runs with six.

"Losing Coats is obviously a huge loss because he's one of the most prolific hitters to ever come through the TCU program," said junior catcher Josh Elander. "But we don't take that approach where that's going to slow us down. It would be easy to sit here and say Coats isn't here, maybe it just isn't our year. But that's not the type of guys coach teaches us to be. If we just take care of our business we should be alright."

Andrew Mistone at practice Thursday
Patrick Ochs

Every team in the field of 64 is trying to do that, too. Take care of business. If you lose two here, your season is over.

Ole Miss' main challenge lately has been scoring runs. Alex Yarbrough, the junior second baseman who was named a first-team All-American by Collegiate Baseball Thursday, said the Rebels still believe.

"We can't wait to get a new start and we're hoping to create as many innings with people on base as we've had," he said. "Then have guys step up and when we get them on, somebody get them home and keep building on that. And hopefully put up multiple crooked numbers in games."

There's a lot of "hope" in that statement. But the Rebels know any team can get hot at any time. As a matter of fact, the ones who do are the ones who move on to a Super Regional. Yarbrough senses that can be the Rebels.

"I think we're really confident," he said. "We've got a bunch of guys really comfortable at the plate. Our swings look good. As I've said, it feels like in the past few weeks we've gotten people on base. We had more opportunities (lately)."

Ole Miss has lost six of its last seven games coming into the Regional and stands 35-24 on the year. TCU lost its last two games in the Mountain West Tournament, but Schlossnagle said his team is ready to play again.

"I'm excited about our club and the way we've played in the last 25-30 games," he said. "I feel like we've had to overcome a lot throughout the season like a lot of teams at this point have. We're looking forward to hopefully playing our best baseball this weekend."

In the recent past, they haven't been lately, and Sclossnagle said he hasn't been pleased about that.

"I think you do get a fresh start and do feel rejuvenated," he said. "We didn't lose six of our last seven but we didn't play well last week either in a conference that's not nearly as good as the SEC. We're pretty embarrassed by the way we played last week and pretty excited about the chance to play better this weekend."

But TCU is a seasoned program and has been in this situation before. The Horned Frogs went to the College World Series two years ago and had hosted a Regional the past three years before failing to do so this year.

Schlossnagle said his team's experience in the postseason is a positive. And they've played in the past at Texas A&M.

"Certainly anytime you've been somewhere it's going to help you be a little more familiar with it. We haven't been here this year, we were here last year. I think when your roster is loaded with a bunch of Texas kids that have played here, whether it be summer ball or for TCU, it's certainly better than going somewhere you've never been, although the environment will certainly be different."

Cliff Godwin talks to Rebs on Thursday
Patrick Ochs

The Rebels face Mountain West Freshman of the Year in Friday starter Preston Morrison. He was also the league's pitcher of the year.

Against the Rebels in game two of their earlier series, Morrison went 3.1 perfect innings in relief with two strikeouts.

Morrison is 9-1, has eight starts and 19 appearances on the season and a team-best 1.73 ERA. He's also logged the most innings with 98.2 so far.

"I was obviously nervous at the beginning but settled down, threw strikes and let my stuff do the work," Morrison said of his performance that Sunday in February. "I didn't try to over-throw. I let them get themselves out basically. It's definitely exciting. I'm just ready to go tomorrow."

Schlossnagle said Morrison is up for the challenge.

"Preston wasn't in our rotation at the time," he said. "He pitched three or four innings out of the bullpen. That was his first appearance of his college career. For a walk-on from Charlotte, N.C., that was a big step up for him to pitch in that environment against that level of team. But as you can see in his numbers, he has proven himself over the course of the season. He was named to an All-American team today, and the great thing about Preston is what you see right now is what you get over the course of a game. He's a strike thrower that isn't going to get rattled and as long as you play defense behind him, he'll give you a chance in every game he pitches."

Ole Miss obviously counters with Bobby Wahl, the sophomore right-hander with a 6-3 record and a 2.26 ERA in 87.2 innings.

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