By Alexis Brudnicki
Canadian Baseball Network
The Horned Frogs were down, but not out.
Jeremie Fagnan and his senior teammates at Texas Christian University thought they might be playing in their last game at Lupton Stadium in the purple and white. Facing elimination against North Carolina State University on Monday night, the host team was down 8-1 with six outs to go.
A wild series of events led to the Wolf Pack relinquishing their lead and eventually taking the loss in the 10th inning, with a combination of errors, walks, balks, and a two-run single from Fagnan in the eighth to allow TCU to advance to its fifth NCAA super regional in the last seven years.
“It’s starting to [sink in] a little bit,” Fagnan said. “But we have to bounce back pretty quickly here. We play [Texas] A&M at two on Saturday. We’re also in a little bit of shock because I think all of us had a little bit of feeling that it could be our last game wearing the TCU uniform. But by tomorrow it will really sink in and we’re really going to focus on Texas A&M.”
The same never-say-die attitude that got the Frogs through the regional round is exactly what the native of Calgary, Alta., believes will help them in the next round of play as they take on in-state rival Aggies in a best-of-three super regional series.
“We’re a really resilient ballclub,” Fagnan said. “We never give up. We haven’t given up all year. We’ve been down before and we’ve come back. We had that same resiliency last year with the same players. It really helps that we’re experienced. We’ve been in these situations before. All of us have been in the clutch situations where we’ve had to come up with a big hit, so our resiliency and our maturity and our experience are the biggest factor.”
Despite knowing that Monday could have been the last game the senior first baseman might have ever played at the collegiate level – and it was certainly looking that way for the majority of the time – during the matchup against NC State the emotions in the dugout stayed incredibly level throughout the madness on the field.
“It changed a little bit, but not too much,” Fagnan said. “They were throwing some pretty good arms out there, so we were kind of battling all game with that. But in the bottom of the eighth, fortunately they started walking some guys and then the fans just kept getting louder and louder, and that allowed us to get baserunners on and kind of start a little bit of chaos on the basepaths. Then the balks happened and it was just crazy.
“I still can’t fathom what happened.”
The Lupton faithful were a huge part of the success that TCU found over their four games on the weekend, Fagnan crediting the fans for really keeping the team in it the entire time and willing them to victory.
“They were really the deciding factor in [Monday’s] game,” he said. “We were down 8-1 and usually it’s kind of the players who spark the fans, but [that] night it was the fans who sparked the players. Even when we were down 8-1 going into the bottom of the eighth, the fans were still on their feet cheering loud, and they got us going there for our rally.”
Last year, the Horned Frogs had another epic battle through the regional round of play on the road to Omaha, but fought through two extra-inning games then on their way to the College World Series. Fagnan knew from the beginning that last season’s team was a special one, and felt the same coming into this year with the current squad.
“Honestly it’s the exact same feeling,” he said. “We only really lost two of our main pitchers from last year, [including] obviously Brandon Finnegan who is pitching in the big leagues now [for the Kansas City Royals], but pretty much have the same guys coming back.
“We returned five out of our nine starters from last year, so obviously it helped to have the same guys coming back. We knew that we were going to have a good, experienced team again coming into this year.”
Battling through multiple injuries this season, straining his quad in the third game of the year, then straining his hip flexor three-quarters of the way through the season, and then partially tearing a tendon in his ankle a few games after that, Fagnan still found ways to help his team as they headed into the post-season. The infielder hit .281/.372/.400 with four home runs, four doubles and 23 RBIs in 38 starts and now has a clean bill of health for the playoffs.
“Honestly I’ve just really relaxed at the plate,” Fagnan said. “I made some adjustments in my swing this year so that really helped, and I worked with hitting coach [Bill Mosiello] all off-season. I was just working on a lot of things and I kind of felt like a new player this year.”
The new player has the same plan, in the same position as he was with his team last year and looking to continue their run further than before.
Along the way, Fagnan is certainly feeling the love from north of the border, as he did last year when he was one of three Canadians – along with Stanford’s Cal Quantrill (Port Hope, Ont.) and Virginia’s Daniel Pinero (Toronto, Ont.) – to advance to super regionals. This year he is one of four, joined by Pinero, Missouri State’s Joey Hawkins (Whitby, Ont.), and Illinois’ Kelly Norris-Jones (Victoria, BC).
“Absolutely,” Fagnan said of feeling Canadian pride. “I know baseball in Canada continues to grow and I love that there are more and more Canadians who are getting into regionals, super regionals, and hopefully the College World Series, so it’s just awesome to represent Canada.”