FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — There is one season TCU senior shortstop Keaton Jones has tried his best to forget.
It was 2013, when the Horned Frogs didn’t even make the NCAA tournament in their Big 12 Conference debut.
“That was a bad season,” Jones said. “At that point, we were still just very young and inexperienced.”
Now with as many as six seniors on the field at any time, the grown-up Frogs are going to the College World Series for the second year in a row.
“Last year, I couldn’t believe it,” Jones said with a smile. “Now I still can’t believe it.”
The lasting memory for TCU’s unusually large senior group won’t be 2013, the only time under 12th-year coach Jim Schlossnagle that the Frogs haven’t made the postseason. They instead will leave with consecutive trips to Omaha, the latest after a Big 12 regular-season title and two incredible clinchers in the NCAA tournament.
TCU (49-13) advanced with a 16-inning, nearly six-hour victory over Texas A&M in its NCAA super regional at home, a week after trailing North Carolina State 8-1 with two outs in the eighth inning of the regional final.
The resilient Frogs play their CWS opener Sunday against LSU (53-10), another SEC team — and one that helped shape Schlossnagle’s vision for what he hoped to do when he first got to Fort Worth.
“Omaha is different when LSU is there,” Schlossnagle said. “It just is.”
Before becoming UNLV’s head coach in 2002, and going to TCU two seasons later, Schlossnagle was associate head coach from 1994-2001 at Tulane. That was about 80 miles from the LSU campus, where the Tigers were in the midst of five national championships over 10 seasons under former coach Skip Bertman.
“That was the heyday,” Schlossnagle said this week. “I’ve been called Tiger bait at Alex Box Stadium plenty of times.”
Schlossnagle saw how LSU built a complete program under Bertman, who had learned as an assistant under two-time national champion Ron Fraser at Miami. That included recruiting, marketing, attendance, game operations and winning national titles.
“My goal was to have a minor league baseball atmosphere in a college ballpark. We’ve done that,” Schlossnagle said. “Our brand obviously is in a growing stage still.”
Bertman’s last game for LSU was a home super regional in 2001, a loss that sent Tulane to the College World Series.
Add in TCU’s first College World Series in 2010, and this will be Schlossnagle’s fourth trip to Omaha — but his first taking players who have already been there before.
“Obviously you’re on a big stage, fighting for a national championship, but at the end of the day, you’re playing baseball,” Jones said. “The main thing is I’m going to focus on playing the game, playing our brand of baseball and not worrying about everything around you.”
While TCU has freshmen Connor Wanhanen and Evan Skoug batting in the third and fourth spots, Jones is among five senior position players in the everyday lineup. The Horned Frogs also have three senior pitchers, including possible Sunday starter Preston Morrison (11-3).
LSU has seven seniors (four position players), but defending national champion Vanderbilt has none while Cal-State Fullerton’s only two seniors are pitchers. The four teams on the other side of the CWS bracket — Miami, Florida, Arkansas and Virginia — each have only one senior in their batting orders.
Two of TCU’s seniors are transfers who were part of last year’s CWS squad, but six are holdovers from 2013.
“We played our last game in the conference tournament knowing our season was already over,” senior reliever Trey Teakell said. “That feeling kind of resonated with us throughout the next fall, the next season. It was a big motivator for us. Definitely frustrating for us that year, but definitely paid off.”