Texas Tech has not been to regionals in a decade, and Big 12 Conference coaches clearly do not expect the Red Raiders to end that drought this year, voting Tech to finish eighth out of nine teams in the league’s preseason poll.
It is far too early to pronounce the Red Raiders national contenders—and second-year coach Tim Tadlock is certainly not getting ahead of himself. But no team in college baseball had a louder opening weekend than Texas Tech, which got off to a start as hot as the weather in Lubbock, where temperatures reached 87 mph over the weekend. The Red Raiders held Indiana’s high-powered offense to just eight runs in four games and took three out of four games from the preseason No. 3 Hoosiers.
“Obviously we beat a good club, and everybody wants to talk about it. And we’re trying to move on, get ready to go this weekend,” said the plain-spoken Tadlock. “We played solid baseball, and I think it’s been proven since I’ve been in the league that every team in the Big 12 can play with anybody in the country, every day of the week. I think our league is strong top to bottom.”
During the final three games of the series, Texas Tech’s lineup was strong from top to bottom, too. The Red Raiders scored 23 runs over those three games, getting meaningful contributions from players off the bench at key times.
“Over the four games over the weekend, it just seemed like every guy we asked to go in and play was ready for the bell,” Tadlock said. “That’s what you want. Guys were ready to play. We used a few different lineups, and probably will keep being able to do that. I’m not going to tout them too much after one weekend, but we do have a bunch of guys that I describe as brown-bag guys—they like to play. And they’ll show up to play every day.”
Junior shortstop Tim Proudfoot certainly fits that mold. His quality defense is his greatest asset, but he brought offensive production to the bottom third of the order this weekend, going 7-for-15 (.467). The Red Raiders got a pair of home runs from sophomore Tyler Neslony and senior Adam Kirsch, who combined to drive in 13 of the team’s 23 runs, but this doesn’t figure to be an overly powerful offense. But it will be hard-nosed, taking after Tadlock.
The biggest difference from a year ago, when Texas Tech went 26-30 overall and 9-15 in the Big 12, is that the pitching staff continues to get deeper. Tadlock said he now has enough arms that the Red Raiders probably could have played seven-inning scrimmages Tuesday and Wednesday using only pitchers who did not throw over the weekend—but pitchers who figure to help the team this spring.
Tadlock is excited about the ability of freshman lefthander Ty Damron and freshman righty Ryan Mosely, two young power arms that opted for college over professional ball in part because of the opportunity to work with Red Raiders pitching coach Ray Hayward.
“People in this region know we’ve got one of the better pitching guys around,” Tadlock said.
Sophomores Dalton Brown and Matt Withrow also have big-time arm strength. Withrow, who allowed four runs (just one earned) over five innings in his season debut this weekend, made 12 starts as a freshman last year, going 5-3, 5.90. A 6-foot-4, 215-pound righthander whose brother Chris made his big league debut for the Dodgers this year, Withrow rates as the team’s best prospect. He can run his fastball into the mid-90s and did a good job this weekend working ahead in the count, throwing his fastball, slider and changeup for strikes.
“He had the most starts of any freshman in the history of our school last year, and we fully expect to reap the reward of running him out there every week last year,” Tadlock said. “His stuff’s good. He’s definitely a guy that’s going to keep progressing and hopefully get a chance to pitch when he’s done here.”
One of the biggest keys to the weekend was the performance of veteran lefthanders Cameron Smith and Johnny Drozd out of the bullpen. They made two appearances apiece, allowing just six combined hits over 11 2/3 shutout innings.
As Tadlock emphasized, it was just one weekend, and certainly Indiana will play much better over the course of the season than it did in Week One. But the Red Raiders deserve credit for dominating the final three games of that series. They sent a message to the rest of the Big 12 that they will be a real factor in the conference this spring.