TCU’s title earns much-needed Big 12 respect

TCU starting pitcher Tyler Alexander delivers against Oklahoma State in the second inning of the championship game during the Big 12 conference NCAA college baseball tournament.

Alonzo Adams/AP

TCU football showed up in the Big 12 looking to contend for conference titles.

Gary Patterson’s Frogs have spent somewhere in the ballpark of 30 seconds in the championship conversation and racked up a less-than-sterling 6-12 record in Big 12 play so far.

Patterson won fewer than six games in an entire season of Mountain West Conference play just once.

Trent Johnson’s basketball Frogs entered the Big 12 with hopes of not getting their behinds kicked too hard before a facility renovation helped the program gain some traction on the recruiting trail in hopes of jumpstarting the program.

TCU’s sitting at 2-34 all-time in Big 12 play on those freshly reddened behinds, trying to recover from a 0-18 season against their new conference buddies in Year 2.

Jim Schlossnagle’s baseball team’s 29-28 mark in Year 1 of the Big 12 was his lowest win total in 12 years of being a head coach.

TCU’s grand entrance to rejoin its former Southwest Conference rivals could have been a little, uh, grander.

"Everybody knew in the back of their mind the move to the Big 12 would be an adjustment for every sport," Schlossnagle told Fox Sports Southwest this week. "We all wanted success to come instantly. We needed some good will and good feelings around here."

Year 2 for Schlossnagle’s team certainly counts. Last Sunday, the Frogs captured the Big 12 baseball tournament title, giving the school its first piece of Big 12 crystal to add to its trophy case.

A day later, TCU earned its first-ever national seed in the NCAA Tournament, becoming the only Big 12 team to earn that designation this year. The Fort Worth Regional begins on Friday afternoon, and if TCU advances, it’ll host a super regional against the winner of the San Luis Obispo Regional on the opposite side of the bracket.

The Frogs will have to get past Siena, Sam Houston State and Dallas Baptist to do it, though.

"If you told me right now we could play a super regional, I’d play one in Anchorage," Schlossnagle said.

Don’t underestimate the impact of some good news out of Fort Worth for the Frogs to share with their Big 12 brethren. It had been scarce before last week’s big win. TCU blew a late lead at the end of 2012 to lose its only bowl game to Michigan State as a Big 12 member and struck out against LSU in last year’s season opener at Cowboys Stadium before eventually finishing 4-8.

Kicking four members off the football team for being swept up in a campus drug sting and losing your starting quarterback for the rest of the season in October 2012 after a DWI arrest doesn’t do much to inspire good faith to skeptical fans across the Big 12.

"The first year in the Big 12 we did win seven games," AD Chris Del Conte told Fox Sports Southwest. "So that was not a lost season, considering everything that happened that year. Last year, we lost four games by 11 total points. We’ve been knocking on the door. But baseball, it’s like breaking the four-minute mile. You did it once and we know we can do it. Collectively, the student-athletes on campus know they can do it."

TCU’s won seven league titles in three different conferences under Schlossnagle. That level of success is nothing new, so the Frogs didn’t bother dogpiling after the tournament win. They did crank up Lil’ Flip’s "Game Over" as soon as they got back to the locker room.

"It’s nice to bust that glass ceiling," Schlossnagle said.   

TCU enters the NCAA Tournament as one of college baseball’s hottest teams. The Frogs have won 27 of their last 31 games since April to surge into a status as one of the game’s top eight teams after a 15-11 start and 2-4 record in their first six Big 12 games. The Frogs finished a game behind regular season champ Oklahoma State, but are the Big 12’s best hope at sending a team to Omaha for the College World Series, thanks to a strong pitching staff headlined by Big 12 Pitcher of the Year Preston Morrison, Brandon Finnegan and Riley Ferrell. All three earned first team All-Big 12 honors.

"This time last year, we were cleaning out lockers and trying to figure out which way was up," Schlossnagle said.

The Frogs missed the NCAA Tournament in 2013 for the first time ever under Schlossnagle, despite making the Super Regionals twice and the College World Series once in the previous four seasons as a Mountain West Conference member.

"Last year took a toll on my confidence a little bit," pitcher Brandon Finnegan said.

He and his fellow pitchers have rallied around a stated goal of "hunting" batters. They’ll fire at the strike zone to get ahead in the count as often as possible and make batters put the ball in play to score.

The no free bases strategy has worked. TCU walked just 125 batters this season, 22 fewer than any team in the Big 12 and 51 fewer than Texas Tech, who has the league’s third fewest walks.

The Frogs have limited opponents to one or fewer runs on 30 occasions this season, and helped turn the season around by outscoring then first-place Texas 12-1 in a four-game sweep in mid-April.

"Our club grew up that weekend," Schlossnagle said. "I have a lot of players on this team now that have never played in the NCAA Tournament. With the close games, the huge crowds, I told them, ‘What you went through this weekend? That’s what a super regional is like.’"

The Frogs passed that test on the way to enjoying its status as Big 12 baseball kingpin and looking to earn even more goodwill from their new conference buddies with a deep tournament run.

"A small private school with a high cost of attendance can compete on a year in year out basis," Schlossnagle said. "We belong here."