By Alexis Brudnicki
Canadian Baseball Network
Returning to the College World Series for their second consecutive season, the Horned Frogs are bringing upgraded expectations with them to Omaha this year.
Last June, Jeremie Fagnan was in his first season at Texas Christian University as a junior, after graduating from Midland College. He left the Chaparrals after winning the NJCAA National Player of the Year award and helping them to their first-ever junior college World Series appearance. Now two years removed from that, he is entering his third-straight championship and looking to finally close the deal.
“It was everyone’s first time going to Omaha so we were kind of happy to just be there,” the senior first baseman said of last year. “We still expected to win but since it was the first time for everyone we just wanted to enjoy the experience.
“This year we’re going in on more of a mission to win the whole thing because we’ve had guys who have been there before who have played at TD Ameritrade. We’re going there to win a national championship.”
Fagnan and his teammates secured their berth in Omaha in the wee hours of Tuesday morning after a 16-inning battle with in-state rivals Texas A&M on their home turf at Lupton Stadium in Fort Worth. TCU was up 4-1 heading into the bottom of the ninth inning before relinquishing the lead and sending the game into extras.
“We thought we were good there in the ninth, but unfortunately they got a couple runs,” the native of Calgary, Alta., said. “Then when it’s starting to get late, you start to get tired and the extra innings start to drag on and it’s just mind over matter in the end.
“You get tired, you can’t really see straight, you’ve got to keep hydrating, you have to keep eating. We actually got smoothies from Smoothie King at 12:30 in the morning just to give us some more energy. It was unbelievable. Our pitchers did the best they could possibly do and we just found a way to scratch a run across to win.”
The game brought back some memories of last year for Fagnan and the Frogs who played in an epic 22-inning matchup – which they also eventually won – to advance to the super-regional round of play before being eliminated at the College World Series.
“It’s definitely the best feeling in the world to win and it’s the worst feeling in the world to lose in those really tight games,” Fagnan said. “[Monday’s game] honestly was pretty similar. It didn’t go quite as long but it felt as long, especially when we were up 4-1 in the eighth with our dominant setup man and closer. But you have to give credit to [Texas A&M], they kept having good at-bats and they gave themselves the chance to win.
But we just stayed grinding pretty much.”
Despite the outcome of what could have been the final frame of the game, TCU never completely lost momentum in the game, battling the whole way through, and each member of the squad keeping everyone else motivated the entire time.
“We just don’t stop yelling,” Fagnan said. “You can probably tell right now my voice is pretty scratchy. We honestly don’t stop yelling, and we won’t allow anyone to just sit there and not say anything. We keep everyone up at all times …
“We’ve been there before, we’ve fought through adversity all year, we know how to come back from getting kind of punched back; we know how to respond. We just kept having good at-bats and our pitchers just kept throwing strikes and keeping us in the game and fortunately we were able to score in the 16th inning I think it was. I can’t even keep track anymore.”
The win was a nice way for Fagnan to cap off his senior season at home, getting out on the field at Lupton Stadium for the last time in his collegiate career. Battling through a number of injuries this year, the Canadian infielder hit .281/.372/.400 with four home runs, four doubles and 23 RBIs in 38 starts, and had conflicting feelings about leaving TCU behind.
“It was bittersweet,” Fagnan said. “That place is the most unbelievable ball field that I’ve ever played at in my entire life. Those fans – you couldn’t ask for better fans. Thank goodness we won because it was definitely sad after the game, knowing that it would be my last time playing in that stadium. But everything you do comes to an end, so I’ve just got to keep moving on to the next chapter of my life.”
In the Frogs 13-4 win in the opener of the best-of-three series he had two doubles and two RBIs. Texas A@M forced a deciding game with a 2-1 win in 10 innings.
His next chapter has yet to be determined, with hopes of professional baseball in the back of the minds of many of the Horned Frogs, several already selected through the first two rounds on Monday and Tuesday. But right now, all they’re thinking about is Omaha and being the last team standing when all is said and done.
“We’re focused,” Fagnan said. “We’re all glad that the draft will be over with before Omaha starts, just to have that relief where you’re being drafted and then you can just go out and play instead of being worried. It’s good that the draft will be over before we get to Omaha …
“Right now, I can’t wait to be under those lights.”
Fagnan is one of three Canadians remaining on the road to the College World Series, and one of just two players. Draft-eligible sophomore shortstop Daniel Pinero (Toronto, Ont.) has advanced with Virginia, and Florida’s volunteer assistant coach Lars Davis (Grand Prairie, Alta.) will head to Omaha in his first season on the Gators coaching staff.