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TCU hopes its veterans provide winning edge in Omaha

Mitchell Traver, pictured, and fellow pitcher Brian Howard have contributed to TCU teams that have navigated a path to the College World Series in four consecutive seasons. Steven Branscombe/USA TODAY Sports

OMAHA, Neb. -- TCU pitchers Mitchell Traver, Brian Howard and catcher Evan Skoug have been selected a total of eight times since 2012 in the Major League Baseball draft.

Traver and Howard have contributed to Horned Frogs teams that have navigated a path to the College World Series in four consecutive seasons. For Skoug, this year marks three straight.

"Our strength," TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle said, "is our experience."

And no group in Omaha this season boasts experience like the TCU battery trio, as the No. 6-seeded Horned Frogs face the No. 3 Florida Gators on Sunday (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2) in the final opening-round game.

Skoug's clutch hitting has earned him legendary status in Fort Worth, with no swing more important than his go-ahead, two-run homer in the eighth inning of the super regional opener last week against Missouri State.

Howard has won his past five postseason appearances, including a start in Omaha last year and the 2016 and 2017 regional and super regional clinchers. Traver, drafted four times, overcame a landslide of injuries to fill a valuable role as a fifth-year senior, starting 11 games.

"I told the guys all this week," Schlossnagle said, "if you have questions, you can come ask me, but you have enormous amount of resource in the locker room."

Go to Howard, Traver and Skoug, the coach said.

For as valuable as TCU finds its veterans' experience in big moments on field, the Horned Frogs might benefit as much or more in Omaha from their leadership away from play.

The Omaha experience is unique in college baseball. For teams that advance in the bracket, waiting days for the next game is often difficult. Last year, in fact, TCU lost its mojo over a two-day break after starting with a pair of wins here.

Newcomers grow anxious about the environment at the stadium and at events associated with the tournament.

None of that ought to bother TCU this year -- if the Horned Frogs follow their coach's advice.

"Most of the challenges are outside the stadium," Schlossnagle said, "especially when it's your first couple times or with a new team. Being able to handle the media attention, the fans, the 'have I bought enough T-shirts for my girlfriend?' -- all of that stuff, it can overwhelm you."

As a result, Skoug is sharing a room at TCU's downtown Omaha hotel with freshman pitcher Jake Eissler. Howard's roommate on this trip is freshman pitcher Nick Lodolo. Traver and freshman pitcher Cal Coughlin are paired in a room.

Notice a trend?

"It means a lot that coach Schloss trusts," Traver said.

Schlossnagle doesn't just trust them. He needs them to show the way. It might serve as the key to getting TCU over the top at the CWS, and it surely represents an edge over every other team in the tournament.

TCU is the eighth program to advance to the CWS in four straight seasons. Of the first seven to do it, only North Carolina, which played in Omaha every year from 2006 to 2009, has never won a title; however, Oklahoma, from 1972 to 1976, and Oklahoma State, from 1981 to 1987, won their crowns outside of the multiyear runs.

"You have dreams when you come to college," said Traver, a 20th-round draft choice last week of the Los Angeles Angels, "and obviously one of the reasons I came to TCU was for the opportunity to play here.

"But I'd be lying if I said I dreamt of this. I dreamt of coming to the College World Series one time, maybe winning it, not coming four times in a row."

Here they are, though, and the TCU leaders take their jobs seriously on and off the field.

Howard, drafted in the eighth round by the Cincinnati Reds, handled a flurry of questions shortly before and after the Horned Frogs arrived in Omaha.

Does it feel different than a super regional? What's the atmosphere in the ballpark like? Does the crowd root for the home team? How many baseballs can we give away?

"Simple questions, because this is such an all-encompassing experience here," said Howard, likely to start on the mound in Omaha soon after unbeaten sophomore Jared Janczak gets the ball on Sunday against Florida. "So much is thrown at you, and you've got to know how to handle it."

Skoug said he plans to remind teammates to take care of their bodies on the extended visit. Just because the CWS differs from every other trip, don't neglect what works. Stay hydrated, Skoug said, and take advantage of facilities offered by the event organizers.

The junior catcher, a seventh-round draft choice of the Chicago White Sox, said he makes the most of his time at the Creighton University weight room. He benefited a great deal, he said, in 2015 from listening to the TCU players who had returned from the 2014 CWS team.

"How they lead has helped make me a better leader," Skoug said.

It helps, Schlossnagle said, that the most veteran of the Horned Frogs handle the baseball every play. Additionally, their personalities make for a strong mix. Skoug brings intensity. Howard, except on the day he pitches, keeps the dugout loose. Traver provides a steady hand and spiritual guidance.

The optimal outcome, if TCU players handle the external issues smoothly, looks a lot like the 63 games that led them to Omaha.

"Just baseball," Schlossnagle said. "If we play clean baseball, we'll stay around awhile. If we don't, we won't."