‘Never been more proud’: TCU baseball eliminated from College World Series by Florida


Charles Baggarly

TCU baseball huddle up ahead of a 3-2 College World Series loss on June 21, 2023.

By Charles Baggarly

OMAHA – The Horned Frogs’ season has come to an end.

In the College World Series semifinal on Wednesday, TCU lost 3-2 to Florida. The Gators reclaimed the lead in the ninth inning after TCU tied it up in the eighth; the Horned Frogs couldn’t respond.

TCU missed plenty of offensive opportunities throughout the contest. The pitching kept the game close, but the Horned Frogs failed to take the lead.

On the final pitch, third baseman Brayden Taylor, the program’s home run leader, sent a deep fly ball to center field. Florida centerfielder Michael Robertson made a spectacular catch at the wall, sending the Gators to the championship.

“I went up there taking my same approach I always do,” Taylor said. “Even though the moment may have seemed a little bit bigger, but I was just going up there, trying to get a good pitch to hit, put a good swing on it. I put a good swing on it. I thought it may have a chance. … Big credit to Florida, though. Florida is going to be the team to win this thing.”

TCU finished the season 44-23 and appeared in its sixth College World Series, its first since 2017.

TCU head coach Kirk Saarloos said he “couldn’t be more proud” of the program and the players.

“Obviously, ran up against a great Florida team and just came up one run short,” Saarloos said. “But like I told them, just the story and the journey that they took us on this year will never be forgotten. I think it completely changes our program in terms of what they did from the middle part of the season until now. It just stinks that it’s over. But I’ve never been more proud of a group.”

Saarloos said the team was resilient, hardworking and determined. Considering the midseason situation, the Horned Frog head coach called the season “pretty special”.

“They were 23 and 20,” Saarloos said. “Left for dead. And they just kept showing up, kept working. If they don’t hold onto that for the rest of their lives and think about what’s possible when you just work hard and believe, I don’t know what else you could point to. Because that was pretty special just to see them continue to grow.”

Taylor said the TCU baseball team is the “most tight knit” team he’s ever been on. Since May 1, 2023, TCU baseball has won 21 of 25; they went from the postseason danger zone to the College World Series.

“Not everybody thought we were going to be at this point in the year where we’re at,” Taylor said. “And I can’t say enough about my teammates and staff and everyone who has supported us all.”

Designated hitter Kurtis Byrne said the future of TCU baseball is in good hands with the talent of the freshman class. Taylor discussed the young talent, saying the group taught the veterans some valuable lessons.

“It was about us leading [the freshmen] in the fall, trying to get them accustomed to learning how TCU baseball runs,” Taylor said. “They hooked on immediately. And throughout the season, they’re the ones picking us up. So I’m very excited to see their future.”

Gators start strong, Frogs waste opportunities

In the first inning with two outs recorded, TCU starting pitcher Kole Klecker hung an off-speed pitch over the plate. Florida shortstop Josh Rivera hit a two-RBI home run 417 feet to left field, giving the Gators an early lead.

Rivera said he wasn’t looking for a specific pitch.

“I was just trying downtown for the heater and he came first pitch slider,” Rivera said. “And I didn’t let that take me away from my approach.”

Taylor, since June 5, 2023, had recorded two hits in 21 at-bats with zero RBIs. In the bottom half of the first inning, the veteran third baseman tallied an RBI base hit in a tough matchup against Jac Caglianone, a left-hander who has a fastball that reaches up to 98 mph.

With Caglianone’s control all over the place, the Horned Frogs loaded the bases. After a strikeout from shortstop Anthony Silva, three runners were left stranded.

In the following inning, Caglianone hit TCU left fielder Logan Maxwell with the first pitch of the frame. At that point, Florida’s two-way superstar had hit two and walked two; right fielder Austin Davis bunted Maxwell over, but the Frogs couldn’t score the run.

“I obviously didn’t have my best stuff today,” Caglianone said. “But like Coach said, bend but don’t break.”

To start the bottom of the fourth inning, Byrne was hit by a pitch. After Byrne was moved to second by Silva, Maxwell got a much-needed base hit to right field; Byrne, a slow base runner, hesitated and was sent home.

The veteran designated hitter was thrown out by a few feet and Davis flied out to end the threat. The Horned Frogs would’ve had two in scoring position with one out.

Rivera, the cutoff man, made an accurate throw to home. The Gator shortstop said it was an aggressive play from TCU.

“They sent it to right field and the right fielder got it in as quick as possible,” Rivera said. “As soon as I caught it I kept my head on a swivel, turned around towards home plate immediately. And luckily I had enough time to set my feet to make a good throw home.”

TCU couldn’t stop stepping on its own feet. In the next frame, catcher Karson Bowen, first baseman Cole Fontenelle and Taylor reached safely to load the bases.

Second baseman Tre Richardson struck out, and Byrne popped up, leaving three base runners stranded. In total, TCU stranded 10 baserunners and failed to register a hit in three bases-loaded situations.

Coming through in the clutch

After Ryan Slater took over for Caglianone on the mound, the Horned Frog offense continued to struggle. Slater kept TCU off the scoreboard for one 2/3 innings.

Ben Abeldt, who took over for Klecker in the sixth inning, was able to keep TCU within striking distance. Klecker responded well following the two RBI home run in the first inning, tossing four scoreless innings.

The Frog offense, at first, couldn’t take advantage of the opportunities Abeldt and Klecker provided while pitching on short rest. Florida’s Cade Fisher prevented TCU from scoring for one 1/3 innings, and Brandon Neely took over in the eighth inning; 12 batters had been retired in a row.

Facing Neely, Richardson got a base hit and Byrne moved the Baylor transfer over with a ground ball. With several missed chances during the ballgame, TCU had another scoring chance; this time, the Horned Frogs capitalized and Silva tied the ballgame with a ground-rule double to left center, providing a clean slate.

Meanwhile, Abeldt stymied Florida with his left-handed, high-arm slot delivery. The freshman from McKinney, Texas threw three scoreless frames prior to a leadoff double in the ninth inning.

Garrett Wright inherited the situation, securing two outs with the help of Fontenelle, who caught a sacrifice bunt attempt. The runner was moved to third by a sacrifice fly.

Garrett Wright almost escaped the inning, making the proper pitches to avoid base hits and collect outs. Second baseman Cade Kurland reclaimed the lead with a weakly hit infield single to the left side.

The Horned Frogs went down in order in the bottom of the ninth, and the Gators won the ballgame, eliminating TCU.