Texas Tech baseball: Pitching leads Red Raiders to College World Series
Three times this postseason Texas Tech faced elimination. All three times, the Red Raiders responded.
On June 6, after falling to Dallas Baptist 10-6 the day before in the Lubbock Regional, Tech got strong pitching in a 5-3 victory against the Patriots to advance to the super regional round.
In last weekend's best-of-three super regional, Tech rallied from an 8-6 Game 1 loss against East Carolina to win Saturday's game 3-1 in 13 innings and Sunday's series finale 11-0.
After East Carolina scored in the bottom of the sixth inning to tie Saturday's game 1-1, Tech pitching shut out the Pirates over the last 15 1/3 innings of the series. That earned Tech its second trip in three seasons to the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska.
Tech (46-18) faces TCU (47-16) at 3 p.m. ET Sunday in a CWS opener.
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"It's one of the first times we've been in that situation, and it's definitely the first time we had to win two," Tech coach Tim Tadlock said. "I mean, in a conference weekend, I guess you don't have to. To win the series, you have to. But this group grew. They've grown throughout the year."
Those 15 1/3 scoreless innings marked the longest scoreless streak from the Tech staff since they threw 17 1/3 innings without allowing a run from April 15-17 against San Diego State.
What a time to shut things down.
Freshman lefthander Erikson Lanning pitched a career-high seven innings in the start on Sunday, then described the experience as "once in a lifetime."
As the players walked off the podium, senior first baseman Eric Gutierrez said, "That's not once in a lifetime. He'll do it again next week."
Lanning and Hayden Howard combined to limit East Carolina to two hits, the fewest for a Tech opponent in an NCAA postseason game.
Those weren't the only clutch performances by Tech pitching in the ECU series. Junior Robert Dugger pitched the game of his life Saturday, entering with runners at first and second and no outs in the bottom of the ninth and closing with five scoreless innings.
All this came after Tech's ace, freshman Davis Martin (9-1), suffered his first loss of the season Friday night.
"I think the guys understand the game of baseball and the game of life will deal you some adversity, and it's how you deal with it," Tadlock said. "Also, it's a game you've got to pick your teammates up. Davis Martin has been there for these guys however many starts he had this year -- every week, he's kind of gone out there and done the deal. I know they wanted to pick their teammate up from that standpoint."
In the Lubbock Regional championship game against Dallas Baptist, Ryan Moseley and Howard stepped up. Moseley made his first start since the beginning of the season and Howard registered five strikeouts over 4 2/3 innings to advance the Red Raiders to the next round.
"Got a lot of trust and faith in all these guys," Tadlock said after that game. "... It's even nicer when we go out and throw the ball well and play good defense behind them. Proud of all of them."
Over the last two weeks, Tech turned 11 double plays to go with four pickoffs, three by Howard.
With Tech leading New Mexico 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth, Howard picked off a pinch runner to end the June 4 game in the Lubbock Regional.
The junior lefthander then recorded one each against Dallas Baptist and East Carolina.
"It's about the looks and the timing of the looks," Howard said. "Make it look like I'm going home and get it over there (to first)."
While pitching and defense have been vital throughout the tournament, the Red Raider bats came alive for the first time since a 12-1 conquest of Fairfield in the Lubbock Regional opener. Tech recorded 16 hits against the Stags, then 22 in the remaining three days.
Against East Carolina, the Red Raiders had 15 hits the first two days before finishing with 14 on Sunday.
After the offensive explosion, Gutierrez mentioned the confidence his team had, becoming the 30th team since 1999 to come back from a 1-0 deficit in a super regional to advance to Omaha.
"I thought after Friday we were fine," Gutierrez said. "You're always going to face adversity, and we faced it throughout the year, and we have responded good, and so we didn't even feel a little bit that we were against the wall. Just kept on playing our game and having fun."
That formula has the Red Raiders returning to Omaha.
Tadlock expects the experience from 2014 will help this year's group immensely both on the field and off.
"It's not going to hurt any that we've been up there and kind of know that there's a lot of distractions when you get there," Tadlock said. "Literally just dealing with texts over the next 24 hours, these guys could be swamped. I mean, literally, you could spend all night tonight on your phone. ...
"Managing their time, managing their energy, I think we should be better this time, and also knowing the path. We know, it's five games. You're going to win five games, you win the whole thing."
This article was written by KRISTA PIRTLE from Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, Texas and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.