Cautiously Optimistic

Texas Tech took three of four games against the then No. 3 ranked Indiana Hoosiers last weekend to open the season. writer Cameron Brock analyzes what that may or may not mean for the Red Raiders moving forward.

Texas Tech baseball hit snooze once, but woke up when the alarm sounded off twice this past weekend against then-No.3 Indiana.

After taking three of four games from a team which made its first-ever College World Series appearance in 2013, Texas Tech fans are the most excited about their baseball team since the Larry Hays era.

There is no doubt fans should be optimistic about Tim Tadlock's second season after the only loss to a top-five ranked team in a four-game series was a 1-0 shutout while facing the opposition's ace. If it weren't for a lead-off double on the first pitch of the 2014 season, the game may have yet to end.

That being said, there has to be a reality check. One year ago, former staff writer Justin Laney and I were talking about how Texas Tech should easily defeat Connecticut in Florida because they lost two games to Purdue and only beat Indiana by one run in 15 innings. The Hoosiers were an afterthought in a Big Ten Conference that is deemed a mid-major by some in the college baseball world. Tech dropped a 1-0 decision to the Huskies and left Orlando without a victory. That was the moment I knew Texas Tech would have a long 2013 season.

Indiana was about as big a surprise as Stony Brook in 2012. The northern part of the country is not known for college baseball. Small conferences such as the Big West, West Coast and Big South generally have more successful baseball programs than the Big Ten. Indiana's appearance was the first from the Big Ten since Michigan in 1984. Ohio State won the conference's last NCAA Championship. The year was 1966.

On the flip side, this Hoosiers squad is almost the same squad that won a game in Omaha. With seven returning All-Big Ten players, it's an experienced team that should be considered dangerous. While Tech fans should take caution and remind themselves it's still February, they have a right to start believing Tadlock has this team turned around and geared up for the program's first regional since 2004.

After all, the Red Raiders pounded the defending Big Ten Champions 23-8 throughout the series and more importantly woke up the bats of an offense that was atrocious in 2013. Credit the pitching for filling in big shoes too. After losing Trey Masek, Andre Wheeler and Jerad McCrummen to the MLB Draft, the pitching staff featured a lot of question marks. Tadlock commended pitching coach Ray Hayward for preparing the staff for this pivotal opening series.

My pitcher of the week award goes to senior LHP Jonny Drozd. The Lake Dallas product made two relief appearances for five innings allowing one hit and zero walks. In addition, he struck out four batters and held the Hoosiers to a .063 batting average.

There were some key defensive plays and the bats were cranked up, but Tyler Neslony sparked a fire in the first inning of game one Saturday with a grand slam to give Tech a 5-0 lead.

The no-doubt-about-it swing ended fear that Texas Tech would struggle offensively this season. Baseball is a mental game and when Big 12 Conference hitters get comfortable in the batter's box, good things happen. Neslony fired up Lubbock baseball fans with a shot the entire nation heard. Now the Red Raiders are receiving rankings and national recognition from college baseball writers all around.

The key for Tadlock now is to keep his team grounded. Be excited Texas Tech fans, but remember Indiana is still from a Big Ten Conference that has one College World Series appearance since 1984.

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