Texas Tech baseball is on the rise and it all starts with head coach Tim Tadlock.
The season has ended and the Red Raiders did not win the national championship. Texas Tech did accomplish quite a bit though in just one season with a young, inexperienced team.
This team was picked to finish eighth by the coaches of the Big 12 Conference. Some publications said Tech would be dead last. Rightfully so, too. The Red Raiders were coming off a season where they finished 26-30 and lost their ace plus two quality pitchers. The offense never could get going in 2013. There was absolutely no chance of this team making it to Omaha.
Or so we thought.
The season started against a team who returned much of its own 2013 College World Series roster. Indiana came into Rip Griffin Park and spoiled the season opener. Texas Tech's offense looked like it had picked up where it left off. Dominic Moreno suffered a 1-0 defeat after giving up a run in the first inning. There was a glimmer of hope, but for much of the Tech faithful, it seemed like another dark, dreary season.
The stars went away and the sun came up the next day. The bats woke up and Texas Tech pounded the Hoosiers the rest of the weekend with a 3-1 record. Tyler Neslony smoked two grand slams on each of the first two Saturdays of the season. Texas Tech would hit the road for the first time on a seven-game win streak.
The first road trip was a shaky one. Texas Tech did not play its best ball, but they did manage to get back to Lubbock with a .500 record away from Rip Griffin Park. The Red Raiders escaped Nacogdoches with a victory thanks to a ninth-inning 2-run double off the bat of Eric Gutierrez. The next day was a nightmare thought. Houston ace Aaron Garza tossed one of the best games of his career and shut Tech down 9-0. One day later, Matt Withrow was lit up by Sam Houston State.
Tech's offense showed some signs of life, but clearly not enough as the Bearkats destroyed Tim Tadlock's squad 10-6. It seemed like another dismal outing at the Houston College Classic for the men from Lubbock. After all, Tech was playing Rice and the Red Raiders had not beaten a Rice team since 1996. Chris Sadberry took the mound that Sunday and tossed seven innings allowing one unearned run. Rice walked in two runs to give Texas Tech their first victory over the Owls in nearly two decades.
Tech would use the momentum to notch a seven-game win streak entering conference play. Once again though, the bats went cold against a power conference foe. Tech pitchers could not get a break for 25 innings against Baylor. After dropping consecutive pitching duals, Texas Tech was shutout for seven innings during a Sunday game. It seemed Baylor would sweep Tech in the first series of conference play. With a routine fly ball to left field, it was certain Tech would not score in the eighth either. The baseball gods spoke and Baylor left fielder Lane Kelly dropped the ball. Tech scored seven runs and got out of Waco with a victory.
The bats continued to be hot the following Tuesday with a 20-4 demolition of Stephen F. Austin. However, the Lumberjacks would get revenge the following night. The weekend would start out with another doom and gloom scenario. TCU ace Brandon Finnegan tossed a gem leading the Horned Frogs to a 9-0 victory. Tech would erupt the next two days outscoring TCU 22-4 and winning a crucial road series.
Missed opportunities plagued the Red Raiders in the next two weekends. The Red Raiders did everything they could to win the series against Texas, buts still came up short. Anyone who saw it live will never forget Zach Davis stealing home plate with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.
Tech still could not scrounge up the victory on that Sunday. The Red Raiders had another golden opportunity to take a series from a top-notch opponent in Oklahoma State. After winning the Saturday game, Chris Sadberry left the Sunday game in the seventh inning with a 2-1 lead. Tadlock went to his trustworthy bullpen and broke his heart. The Cowboys lit up the bullpen for seven runs and Oklahoma State would run the table all the way to the Big 12 Regular Season Championship and a regional host bid.
Perhaps the Oklahoma State game did some good though. The Red Raiders went on to win 12 of their next 14 games including two conference series sweeps. Tech did not become invincible though as they had yet to hit their lowest point in the season. The Tech pitching staff had its worst series of the season in Lawrence against the Kansas Jayhawks. Tech was swept and the Jayhawks outscored the Red Raiders 21-8. It was a pitiful display, but the Red Raiders bounced back with an 18-3 drubbing of Dallas Bapitst. Tech would finish the regular season with a sweep of West Virginia and the clinching of a 40-win season.
Tech entered the Big 12 Conference Championships as one of the hotter teams. This meant absolutely nothing to the Texas Longhorns as they quickly dispatched the Red Raiders 8-3. Tech again bounced back to take an early 7-1 lead against Oklahoma. The bullpen collapsed again and the Sooners came back to eliminate Tech with a walk-off hit.
There was much to be celebrated though. The following Monday, Texas Tech was announced as a two-seed in the Coral Gables Regional. It was the first time Tech made it to the national postseason in a decade. Again, this was the team picked to finish eighth. Kansas, the team picked to finish ninth, also made a regional. In addition the team picked to win the Big 12 Conference did not even qualify for the Big 12 Conference Championships finishing in dead last.
The celebration was short as Tech had to prepare for a tough trip to the southern tip of Florida. In the first game of the regional, Tech found themselves in a dogfight against an Ivy League school. The Columbia Lions took the lead in the fourth inning. After giving up an two-run homer to Adam Kirsch, Columbia managed to tie the game in the sixth. Neither team would score again until Eric Gutierrez blasted a walk-off double to left-center field.
The next matchup featured the ACC Co-Pitcher of the Year. Tech had a tough task ahead of them after losing Jake Barrios. As if the road was not tough enough, coach Tadlock named a freshman the starter. This was no ordinary freshman though. The cancer surviving Dylan Dusek tossed eight innings of shutout baseball to remain undefeated in his young career. Tech defeated the Miami Hurricanes, who hosted the regional, 3-0 and placed themselves in a position where one more victory was needed.
Tech snatched the victory and for the first time ever, won a regional. It did not come without obstacles though. Eric Gutierrez was ejected along with a coach from each team after a collision at first base and some unsportsmanlike behavior which sparked a bench-clearing shoving match. In addition to the loss of the Big 12 Player of the year according to the Waco-Tribune Herald, Texas Tech was forced to take starter Ryan Moseley out of the game due to multiple weather delays. Moseley, a freshman, started out tossing six shutout innings.
In addition to the weather delays and the eventual suspension of the game, Miami took an injury break during a very opportune moment for the Red Raiders. Suspiciously, the Miami starter did not feel the need to leave the game after the injury break. The Hurricanes would win the game on the next day 2-1, but Tech fired back with a shutout and the clinching victory. This came in big thanks to a complete game shutout from Cameron Smith.
The Red Raiders also found out they would host the Super Regionals as College of Charleston, a four seed, won the Gainesville Regional. This was not an easy four seed though. College of Charleston pitchers allowed two runs in a two-game span. Texas Tech used tremendous defense and stellar pitching to earn back-to-back 1-0 victories. Some of the top defensive moments included two plays at home plate to get Brandon Glazer out at home on two different occasions in game one. No Red Raider fan will ever forget Devon Conley's amazing catch in right field to end an inning where the Cougars were sure to score a run if he didn't make the spectacular diving play. It will be etched into memories of Texas Tech fans for years to come as it help send Texas Tech to their first ever trip to the College World Series.
Tech had a lead in their first game at Omaha against TCU, but an eighth-inning error led to the loss in game one. Errors continued to haunt the Red Raiders as two of them were committed against Ole Miss, eventually leading to the elimination of Texas Tech.
2014 is the most historic season in Tech baseball history. Expect another one more historic soon though. Tim Tadlock is extremely likely to continue working at his alma mater for at least the next decade and maybe until retirement. In just his second season as head coach, he won National Coach of the Year. The Red Raiders will return a youthful roster next season with loads of experience. Eric Gutierrez will continue to rake in terrific stats as a junior in 2015. Dylan Dusek and Ryan Moseley had wonderful freshman campaigns. There are plenty of more great youngsters on this roster including Anthony Lyons, Johnathon Tripp and Dalton Brown.
It is the most historic season in Texas Tech baseball history, but it's only the beginning of something great.
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