FORT WORTH, Texas — The smoke from the freshly exhausted fireworks show behind a green, sun-drenched centerfield fence hadn’t even cleared when the opening bars of a Bowling for Soup song blasted through the Lupton Stadium speakers.
"Somebody pinch me, ’cause I can’t believe I’m here, but this is something I’ve dreamed of all my life," they blared. "Ready or not, Omaha, Nebraska. ‘Cause here we come."
The PA system cued up Counting Crows’ "Omaha" once Bowling For Soup finished.
TCU showed up for its first opportunity to host a super regional prepared to celebrate. Four years ago, the Frogs made their first College World Series and dogpiled on Texas’ Longhorn logo in centerfield while thousands of furrowed brows silently watched (and judged) from the stands in Austin.
This time around, the 4,450 who showed up at 3 p.m. on a workday threatened to tear the net behind home plate down to help closer Riley Ferrell and catcher Kyle Bacak celebrate the Frogs’ 6-5 win over Pepperdine with a team-wide dogpile in between the pitcher’s mound and home plate.
"The thing that’s special about this is our fans played such a role in it," TCU manager Jim Schlossnagle said. "When I took this job, I dreamed of this day, playing in front of these fans."
A lot changes in four years. TCU’s not just a growing program trying to prove itself to the country anymore. It’s the best team in a major conference with a pitching staff built for a deep run in college baseball’s promised land.
It’s been awhile since the Frogs have played the part of scrappy underdog.
"The guys I’ve been here with, that’s all we’ve ever talked about," junior Kevin Cron said. "We put in the work, 7 a.m. workouts in the fall, everything we do is leading up to this point. I’m so happy to be part of it."
Reaching Omaha’s not a hazy goal the Frogs might reach in the future. It’s an expectation that now and in the future, signing with TCU will probably mean a chance to play some games at TD Ameritrade Park with a national title up for grabs.
"We gave them everything we had," Pepperdine manager Steve Rodriguez said. "TCU was no doubt the better team today. They’re a national seed for a reason."
The Frogs didn’t secure a lead until Bacak laid down a perfect squeeze bunt in the top of the ninth inning to score Jerrick Suiter and turn a 5-4 deficit into a decisive 6-5 lead.
Bacak came to the plate ready to hit, but after a first pitch slider was ruled a ball, associate head coach Bill Mosiello called for the bunt.
"I was kind of surprised at first, but it made sense," Bacak said. "I knew if we got another run for Riley, he was going to shut the door."
He did exactly that. Pepperdine pinch hitter Jack Ross drew a leadoff walk, but Ferrell held him at third by retiring the next three batters and setting off the biggest celebration in Lupton Stadium’s 11-year history.
"When I got that first strike, I knew it was over," Ferrell said. "I had to keep telling myself that."
Nevermind that ESPN’s cameras didn’t show Pepperdine rightfielder Bryan Langlois whiff on the game’s final pitch. An ESPN staffer told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that a "frozen switcher" was the culprit.
The crowd’s inning-long standing ovation was rewarded and the "CWS 2010" logo on the left field wall alongside the new purple Big 12 logo.
The Frogs will face new Big 12 opponent Texas Tech in their first game at the College World Series. The two teams split their four-game series 2-2 this season.
Only three national seeds were still alive when the Frogs clinched one of eight spots in Omaha and TCU will have as good a shot as any to bring home the title.
Could that "CWS 2014" logo read "National Champion" next spring?