BY ERIC OLSON
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — TCU is looking for some history. A deep pitching staff could lead the way for the Horned Frogs.
TCU heads into the 2018 baseball season looking to join Stanford as the only programs to make five straight College World Series appearances since the NCAA went to its current tournament format in 1999.
The Horned Frogs have the makings for one of the top pitching staffs in the nation, led by starters Jared Janczak, Nick Lodolo and Sean Wymer and closer Durbin Feltman.
The biggest question mark is their everyday lineup. Five newcomers probably will start, joining first baseman Luken Baker, right fielder Connor Wanhanen and left fielder Josh Watson.
“We talk a lot, especially this year, about resetting to zero because last year’s group was awesome and the year before that was awesome and the year before that as well,” Wanhanen said. “This is a completely different team.”
TCU is a consensus top-10 team nationally and picked to finish behind two-time defending champion Texas Tech in the Big 12. D1Baseball.com selected shortstop Adam Oviedo for its preseason freshman of the year and Baker as its player of the year in the Big 12.
Baker missed the last 21 games of last season after injuring his left (non-throwing) arm in a collision at first base. He was the 2016 freshman of the year and is batting .355 with 103 RBIs in 114 career games.
“Everything is all healed up 100 percent,” Baker said.
Seven programs have reached the CWS at least five years in row. Miami has done it twice, and Oklahoma State made a record seven consecutive appearances from 1981-87.
TCU is going for its sixth trip to Omaha since 2010. The Frogs have yet to win a national title. Their last two CWS appearances ended with bracket-final losses to eventual champions Coastal Carolina (2016) and Florida (2017) .
Ten other teams to watch:
—FLORIDA: The defending national champion Gators are No. 1 in every major preseason poll. Five everyday starters are back, and the pitching rotation is headed by projected first-round picks Brady Singer and Jackson Kowar. The lineup gets a boost from the return of senior catcher JJ Schwarz (12 HR, 56 RBIs), who returned to school after falling to the 38th round of last year’s draft.
—OREGON STATE: The Beavers were beaten just four times before the CWS and then lost back-to-back games to LSU to fall short of a spot in the finals. Pac-12 player of the year Nick Madrigal leads a veteran lineup for the conference favorite. Luke Heimlich heads the pitching staff. He missed the super regional and CWS after the Oregonian newspaper reported he had pleaded guilty to a single count of molesting a 6-year-old girl when he was a teenager .
—FLORIDA STATE: It’s another season that begs the question whether this will be the year Mike Martin, who has led the Seminoles to the CWS 16 times, wins his first national title. Drew Mendoza leads what could be one of the nation’s most powerful lineups, and All-America lefty Tyler Holton is back after striking out 144 in 119 1/3 innings last season.
—TEXAS TECH: The Red Raiders made it to the CWS in 2016 but were upset by Sam Houston State in regionals last year. They lost some big bats, but they have enough back to win the Big 12. They have one of the nation’s best lefties in 10-game winner Steven Gingery and a solid No. 2 starter in Davis Martin.
—NORTH CAROLINA: Like Texas Tech, the Tar Heels got knocked out of regionals by an upstart (Davidson). Three of the top four hitters are gone, so there are question marks about the offense. The pitching staff is young and talented, headed by 6-foot-6, 256-pound Gianluca Dalatri.
—ARKANSAS: The Razorbacks are picked to win the SEC West. Grant Koch hit a career-high 13 home runs last season, most by an SEC catcher, and No. 1 starter Blaine Knight is back after striking out 96 in 90 innings. The Hogs also should get a boost from pitcher Isaiah Campbell’s return from an elbow injury.
—UCLA: The Bruins usually aren’t an offensive juggernaut, but a young everyday lineup matured last season and their production should increase. Jon Olsen is back after going 7-1 as the staff ace.
—CAL STATE FULLERTON: The Titans, picked to win the Big West, bring back a .300 hitter in shortstop Sahid Valenzuela as well as No. 1 starter Colton Eastman, who missed 2 1/2 months in the middle of last season because of an elbow injury, and closer Brett Conine (15 saves).
—INDIANA: Coach Chris Lemonis has taken the Hoosiers to regionals in two of his first three seasons, and they are the pick to win the Big Ten. Three returning players hit double-digit homers and the pitching staff is deep and experienced.
—SOUTH ALABAMA: Travis Swaggerty (.356, 60 RBIs) is among eight returning starters from one of the top offenses in the country. The Jaguars of the Sun Belt Conference will need to be productive again because their pitching is a concern.
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