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TCU's Morrison picks right time for a career first

OMAHA, Neb. -- Considering Preston Morrison's luck in the postseason, might TCU coaches have considered giving him a rest Sunday as the Horned Frogs opened play in the College World Series against LSU?

Not a chance.

"You're looking at a TCU Hall of Famer and, I think, a guy who can pitch in the big leagues," coach Jim Schlossnagle said. "He's a rocking-chair pitcher. It means I can just sit back in my rocking chair and watch him go."

Morrison pitched the seventh-seeded Horned Frogs to a 10-3 win over the No. 2 Tigers, firing seven innings as the TCU offense backed him with four runs apiece in the fifth and seventh innings. The senior right-hander allowed one run on five hits, struck out five and walked none to earn his first win in nine career NCAA postseason starts.

That's right -- one win in nine starts for the ace.

Don't let the numbers fool you, though. Morrison pitched spectacularly in many of his tournament appearances, dropping his postseason ERA on Sunday to 2.41 in 59 2/3 innings.

"He's had some bad luck," TCU pitching coach Kirk Saarloos said. "Let's get that straight. And he's pitched in some amazing games."

Morrison shrugs it off. The Horned Frogs are a win on Tuesday at TD Ameritrade Park from earning control of Bracket Two and the inside track to the CWS championship series.

"I'm just focused on how blessed I am to be at TCU in such an awesome program," he said.

Some guys talk a big game about the team-first attitude. Morrison backs it up like few student-athletes in any sport.

A recent sixth-round draft pick of the Chicago Cubs, Morrison is a four-year walk-on at TCU, receiving only academic aid despite his status as the most successful pitcher in the history of the program. His 37 career victories are a school record and rank as six more than any active pitcher nationally.

Last year, Morrison informed big league clubs before the draft that he would not sign. So don't even try, he said. He wanted a chance to win a national title as a senior. Morrison said he was motivated not by envisioning the landmark moment that came Sunday.

"It was honestly what's going to happen in these next nine or 10 days," he said.

According to Schlossnagle, Morrison's selfless approach has allowed the Horned Frogs to distribute scholarship money in a way that improves the program.

"It's like a guy in the NBA or anywhere you have a salary cap," Schlossnagle said, "where they're willing to give up something for the team to be better. He knows we're that much deeper on the mound because he's not on baseball aid."

A notable difference exists between Morrison and the pro star who turns down a raise. They're already making millions. He's paying to go to school.

"I don't need it," he said. "I don't look at it as a slap in the face or anything like that. I just think it's about the team. It's not about me."

Morrison arrived at TCU almost by accident out of Waxhaw, North Carolina. Pitching for a summer team before his senior season of high school, he was matched in a tournament in Georgia against a pair of teams from Texas. Former TCU assistant Randy Mazey saw him pitch in the first game, and Schlossnagle watched the second -- but not to see Morrison.

The TCU coaches were there to recruit the players from Texas, none of whom Schlossnagle said he could recall on Sunday.

"We looked up in the fifth, sixth inning of a seven-inning game," Schlossnagle said, "and said, 'Man, they're getting some bad swings off this guy.'"

Schlossnagle, who attended Elon University in North Carolina, knew Morrison's coach, Bo Robinson. They talked after the game.

"I've been telling everybody," Robinson told Schlossnagle, "nobody can hit him."

But no schools were recruiting Morrison, 6-foot-2 and 160 pounds after four years in college. He couldn't hit 90 mph on the radar gun. TCU coaches contacted him and invited Morrison to campus. Later, they offered him a chance to join the Horned Frogs for practice as a freshman in the fall of 2011, with no guarantee of a roster spot in the spring.

He won nine games as a true freshman, starting twice against Ole Miss in regional play and against UCLA in a super regional.

As a junior in 2014, Morrison allowed one earned run in 7 1/3 innings of a 22-inning win over Sam Houston State in the regional. He again allowed one run in 7 1/3 innings of TCU's opener in Omaha last year, a 3-2 win over Texas Tech in which the Horned Frogs scored twice in the bottom of the eighth.

This year in the postseason, he went eight innings against North Carolina State, allowing two earned runs, and left with the lead before closer Riley Ferrell blew the save. Against Texas A&M in the super regional, Morrison pitched into the 10th inning but took the loss for allowing two runs.

Still, he rarely questioned the misfortune. Morrison figured he would win eventually. He's thrilled it happened at the CWS.

Against LSU, which entered the game fourth nationally in batting average, Morrison used an effective mix of the fastball, slider and changeup. The win moved him to 12-3 as a senior.

"That's a message to everybody in the country," said Saarloos, the TCU pitching coach, former Cal State Fullerton star and seven-year big league pitcher. "Don't worry about the radar gun. What is the guy telling you who's out there hitting? You can't put a radar gun on what's inside his heart."

LSU coach Paul Mainieri said Morrison "let us get ourselves out."

Said Alex Bregman, the Tigers' All-American shortstop: "That's what he's done his whole career."

A career for Morrison with humble roots but still alive in the quest for a championship finish.