Going into the weekend, this was the most worried I’ve been about a Regional since I started watching Texas Tech my freshman year in the spring of 2014. We faced two red hot teams in Louisville (who hadn’t lost a regional game since 2012) and Kent State, along with a New Mexico State team that could erupt at any moment.
And what did the Red Raiders do? Have their best regional performance ever under Tadlock. They defeated New Mexico State on Friday by the score of 9-2, defeated Louisville on Saturday 10-4, and then defeated them once again on Sunday 11-6. They won by five runs or more in every game and the closest it got late was three runs in Sunday’s contest.
So let’s break down this awesome weekend and look ahead to who the Red Raiders will face in the Super Regional:
Pitching Rotation and Bullpen: Tadlock did a perfect job setting up the pitching rotation for the weekend. Myself and MeestahRogers discussed on the 23 Personnel Podcast about the possibility of having a reserve starting rotation for the weekend. Apparently Tadlock agreed and started Dusek on Friday to face New Mexico State (although Shetter would throw the most innings).
First off, since Tech was facing a four seed, you didn’t need your best pitcher and just had to trust your players to get it done. Secondly, this allowed Tadlock to use his best pitcher, Caleb Kilian, for the most important game of the regional in Game 2, and use the future draftee (as in tonight) in Davis Martin on Sunday against the No. 2 seed Louisville.
That proved to be the right move, as Dusek and Shetter kept New Mexico State at bay and Davis Martin looked like Friday night ace Davis Martin against the Cardinals. He also used the bullpen well, throwing out some middle tier relievers against New Mexico State, then throwing out their most important reliever against Louisville on Saturday. There was some hic-cups in Sunday’s game, but the lead was larger than imagined.
Triple Threat: Man oh man, how about the three-four-five hitters for the Red Raiders? Typically we talk about Josh Jung and Grant Little, and rightfully so as they both received multiple All-American honors, but Zach Rheams belongs in this category after his performance this weekend.
The trio had a slash line of .455/.581/.909 with 14 RBIs, 14 runs and an OPS of 1.490. Those are stupid numbers for three hitters. Especially for Rheams, who had three home runs, seven RBIs and six runs over the weekend. And that includes a game where he went 0 for 4. Tech likely doesn’t win this weekend without Rheams.
The rest of the order wasn’t bad either. They scored 30 runs (averaged 10 runs a game) and were aggressive at the plate and on the base paths. They had a runner or two get thrown out, but overall that aggressiveness lead to extra runs in some innings and some big hits for players like Brian Klein, Cameron Warren and Cody Farhat.
Catcher/Second/Right Field Situation: Basically the first eight hitters were determined for much of the second half of Big 12 play. Brian Klein, Michael Davis and Cody Farhat switched around in the order some, but were in the line-up whenever healthy. The question mark has been at the catcher position.
Fulford didn’t do great at the plate, as he went 1 for 13 with two runs scored, but did pretty well defensively. Only a ball or two went past him and Louisville did not run much on him, with only one stolen base with the game still in hand. Fulford did have some nice at-bats and hard hit balls, and the stat sheet doesn’t show that.
Fulford only has an average of .214, but his OBP is .353 (it was .380 or so to start the weekend), and he’s only a freshman. I believe Fulford was the best choice moving forward. And I can’t complain after seeing the Louisville catcher, who misfired on his throw to second, couldn’t hit worth a lick, couldn’t catch or block the plate and caused a balk.
I also noticed that Klein is now at second once again and Holt is in right field. Klein is the better defender and made some good plays at second, including a couple I’m not sure Holt could’ve made. Holt looked sketchy at right field, as he let a ball drop and looked like he couldn’t locate the ball well at times.
I’m sure Tadlock put him out there because of his speed, because even if you’re not the best defender, you can get to balls slower guys can’t get to (Ex: Mookie Betts, who played second in the minors). But I’m afraid he’s going to drop a key ball in the postseason.
Around the Big 12 and NCAA Tournament: There was a lot of interesting games and results around the NCAA Tournament this past weekend. First off, there are two Big 12 teams left in the Big 12. Baylor lost to Fullerton and Stanford to be eliminated in three games, as Oklahoma State lost to Stetson twice to be eliminated in four games.
The crushing blow was Oklahoma, who didn’t have Steele Walker or Kyler Murray this weekend, yet won their first two games. They lost Mississippi State twice by a combined score of 21 to 6 to be eliminated. Meanwhile, Texas had a clean sweep like Tech, although not quite as dominate.
As for Tech’s super regional opponent, it will not Georgia as we all thought. After the Bulldogs scored 29 runs in their first two games, Duke outscored the Bulldogs 16 to 9 to upset Georgia twice and move on. Duke had trailed in all four of their elimination games by scores of seven, four, three and two.
Luckily, this means that Sunday’s game against Louisville was not Texas Tech’s last game at Dan Law Field, since Tech is ranked higher than Duke. However, it won’t be easy, as Duke has had multiple comebacks, has a lot of home run potential and a great bullpen. That being said, Tech avoids the road, where they haven’t played the best, and plays at home, where with the exception of the Texas series were virtually unbeatable.
As for teams on Tech’s side of the College World Series bracket, No. 4 Ole Miss was eliminated by Tennessee Tech, who will play Texas for a spot in Omaha. No. 5 Arkansas will play South Carolina for a spot, and No. 1 Florida (who barely survived) will face Auburn for a spot. Tech would face the winner of Florida and Auburn if they move on.
Super Regional Mini Preview: Well here comes the Dukies. We all became fans of them on Monday, but now it’s back to disliking them like most of America. Duke won 44 games this season so far (more than Tech) in a tough ACC and had an RPI of 20. They have a 5-5 record against teams with a Top 25 RPI.
Their team ERA is 3.91, which is lower than Tech’s, but 45 of their 60 starts of the year come from pitchers with an ERA of 5.05, 5.47 and 6.01. That explains why Duke trailed in every game of the Athens regional. Their pitching strength if their bullpen, with three guys with 20+ appearances and sub-2 ERAs, and two guys with a sub-3 ERA.
They also have bats that can get them back in the game as we saw this weekend. The teams has a team slash line of .278/.381/.432 and have plenty of guys in their lineup who can hit home runs. Their biggest threat is Griffin Conine, who bats fourth and has hit 18 home runs on the season, including a few in the regional round.
BONUS: Grant Little drafted 74th Overall in MLB Draft: I wasn’t going write anything because I didn’t think anyone would be drafted on the first day. Tadlock even said in his interview that it wouldn’t be a big deal if Tech had to play in it because he thought it was just the first round on Monday. But Grant Little and the Padres had other plans.
The sophomore outfielder was taken 74th overall by the San Diego Padres. He was projected to go in the fourth round but we taken near the bottom of the second round, just ahead of Luken Baker of TCU. He was the highest Red Raider taken under Tadlock and the highest since Barrett Barnes was drafted 45th overall in 2012. The reason he was able to get drafted is because he’s over the age of 21, despite being a just a sophomore.
This is actually a great situation for Little. The Padres currently have a young center fielder in Manuel Margot who has some potential (who I personally am not a huge fan of), and a couple of mid-20 year old corner outfielders. By the time Little is ready, both those corner infielders will likely run out of arbitration or will so soon.
Not only that, but there is currently just one OF ranked in the Top 15 players in their farm system, and he’s ranked 13th (should also mention former Tech signee Josh Naylor is 14th). Unless a middle infielder moves to outfield, he’ll have a shot to make the show.
I’ll have a more in depth story once the MLB Draft is over, but Little being drafted where he did is huge for him and Texas Tech.