‘We’re back where we should be’: TCU baseball set to face Oral Roberts in College World Series


Charles Baggarly

TCU head coach Kirk Saarloos, second baseman Tre Richardson, pitcher Sam Stoutenborough and third baseman Brayden Taylor take the podium ahead of the College World Series on June 15, 2023.

By Charles Baggarly

Ahead of the College World Series, TCU practiced at Charles Schwab Field in Omaha, Nebraska on Thursday.

“We’re back where we should be, in my opinion, for TCU baseball,” head coach Kirk Saarloos said. “It had been six years. We had gone four years in a row and five total, and I think Fort Worth and TCU thought it was super easy to get to a World Series, and it’s really hard. So I couldn’t be more proud in terms of our program being back in Omaha.”

TCU will appear in its sixth College World Series on Friday. Centerfielder Elijah Nunez said he wants to do more than make an appearance.

“We know that if we just continue to play our game that we will be national champions,” Nunez said. “I want to play at the biggest stage and put Fort Worth back on the map because we haven’t been [to the College World Series] in a while.”

Veteran third baseman Brayden Taylor said competing in Omaha means a ton, and it’s important to the TCU community and the city of Fort Worth.

“I’m really looking forward to it,” Taylor said. “This is the biggest stage of the year. … We’re definitely trained for moments like these, and we just got to stick to our levels of preparation.”

Saarloos has been to the College World Series as a player and an assistant coach. Now, he’ll make his sixth appearance; this time, he’s a head coach.

Saarloos said the feeling of pure joy when punching a ticket to Omaha doesn’t feel different depending on the role. 

“And so I’m just super fired up that we’re gonna have 27 guys that are going to create their own memories,” Saarloos said. “And that’s the part that’s fun for me, you know, is to be able to watch.”

Attacking the College World Series gauntlet

TCU has to win a minimum of three games to make it to the College World Series Championship Finals. Lose two, and the season is over; the Horned Frogs have Flordia, Viginia and Oral Roberts on their side of the bracket.

Saarloos said the key to having a good run is staying in the winner’s bracket to keep pitching fresh. Of course, winning games in Omaha is easier said than done.

“We’ll probably have the least amount of depth of anybody there from a pitching staff standpoint,” Saarloos said. “You know, just dealing with some different injuries and things. … The more times that you don’t have to stress your pitching out the better.”

Pitcher Cam Brown said there’s more buildup in the postseason, but the emotions tend to settle when the ballgame starts. The players understand they’re set to play in the biggest games of their collegiate careers.

“The plate is the same 17 inches,” Brown said. “The umpires are calling the same strike zone and the hitters are doing the exact same thing.”

Saarloos said the only difference in the ballgames will be the fans at Charles Schwab Field, which has a capacity of 24,000. He mentioned at some point in a baseball career, the fan environment and the pressure become ignorable outside noise.

Saarloos spoke to the team about distractions, emphasizing the College World Series routine is different with the days off in between games. He reminded them being in Omaha, Nebraska is all about competition, and they’ll have to prepare and play the same way that got them to this point.

“They’re going to have to be really good at locking in and getting kind of in their routine, like a normal game day,” Saarloos said. “And then being able to check out a little bit when it’s not baseball time and enjoy, you know, being in the College World Series.”

Prepping for the Golden Eagles

Freshman right-hander Kole Klecker is set to start for TCU against Oral Roberts; in Klecker’s last outing, he tossed seven scoreless innings against Indiana State in the Fort Worth Super Regional.

“[Oral Roberts is] going to be tough,” Saarloos said. “They’re always a hard-nosed, tough ball club. … There’s not many teams that can take what they took on Friday night with what was on the line, being up 8-0 and then losing, and then to come back and win the next two days and do it on the road, you know, that’s something special.”

Saarloos said teams don’t “luck into” winning 51 games. He mentioned at this point in the season, you can throw rankings out the window because all eight teams in Omaha have the ability to win.

Oral Roberts has a terrific .323 team batting average and a solid 3.97 team ERA. Saarloos said they’ll have their hands full with a tough ball club. 

“We know [Oral Roberts],” Saarloos said. “We played them last year in the regional, and their coaching staff does a great job. They’re really, really good. And they’re hot.”

The Frogs will face outfielder Sam Thompson, a familiar face. Thompson played for the Horned Frogs in 2022 and transferred to Oral Roberts.

Nunez said seeing Thompson will be amazing.

“[Thompson] was with me since my freshman year in the outfield,” Nunez said. “And I got to know him not only as a player but as an individual. An he’s just an amazing player. Amazing guy and I’m excited to see him.”

Against TCU, Oral Roberts will start right hander Jakob Hall. The sophomore has a 3.56 season ERA. In his last outing, Hall allowed five earned runs in five innings against Oregon.

Up next

The Horned Frogs are set to take on the Oral Roberts Golden Eagles in game one of the College World Series at 1 p.m. CT Friday.