After a disappointing series loss to Baylor, the series against Texas in Austin became of paramount importance for the Red Raiders to get back in the Big XII title race. With rivalry tensions perhaps at an all-time high due to recent events, this couldn’t have meant much more for Texas Tech. Last week’s column noted that Texas Tech needed some players to step up following the injury bug that has claimed starters in Dylan Neuse, Kurt Wilson, Hunter Dobbins, and Brandon Birdsell throughout the season. The Red Raiders would have one player, in particular, do exactly that to determine the outcome of the series, but let’s start with a look at Friday’s opener.
For Game One, both Tech and Texas had their aces on the mound in Patrick Monteverde and Ty Madden, respectively. The first inning had the look of a pitcher’s duel with neither team getting anything going. However, Braxton Fulford opened the second inning with a solo home run to give Tech a 1-0 lead. Texas was threatening to tie the game in the second inning with a man on second base and hit a fly ball into no-man’s-land that looked like it was going to score the tying run at the very least but Dillon Carter covered a massive amount of ground and made a highlight-reel diving grab to end the inning.
Tech went in order to open the 3rd inning, and Texas would open their half of the frame with a solo home run of their own to tie it at 1-1. Monteverde surrendered a walk and Texas down a sac bunt to try to move him forward, but the throw from third sailed and Texas had runners on the corners. A fielder’s choice would bring in a run, and a line drive to right field appeared as if it would bring in a few more, but the Red Raiders made their second inning-ending diving grab of the game, this time courtesy of Easton Murrell. This limited the damage, but Texas still held a 2-1 lead after three.
In the fourth inning, Braxton Fulford reached on a walk, and Cody Masters ripped a triple down the right-field line to score Fulford. Ty Madden would put a pitch in the dirt for a passed ball to score Masters, and Tech held a 3-2 lead after their half of the fourth. Monteverde would lock in with a flyout and a pair of Ks to retire the Longhorn batters in order, bringing up Dillon Carter at-bat to open the fifth. Carter blasted a double to the wall. Parker Kelly followed and had a little bit of luck go his way on a botched bunt attempt that ended up dropping in the right spot in the infield to put men at the corners with no outs.
Dru Baker would be next to the plate to hit a double perfectly between the gap in left and center to the wall to score both Carter and Kelly. A more traditional bunt from Murrell moved Baker to third, and a sacrifice fly by Jung that nearly left the ballpark scored Baker to push the Tech lead to 6-2. Texas tried to close the gap a bit in their half of the fifth by opening with a solo home run and a double, and Monteverde’s day was done as Texas had a man on third with only one out. Ryan Sublette would enter and give up a walk to put runners on the corners, but then followed with two strikeouts to end the scare.
Both teams would go in order in the sixth inning. Tech threatened in the seventh following a Baker double and had runners on the corners with two outs, but Texas’ Shifflet, who entered for Madden in the sixth, managed to strike out Fulford. Sublette made quick work of Texas in their part of the seventh. Texas would change pitchers again in the eighth, and the interesting development for Tech in the inning was Kurt Wilson entering to pinch run.
Wilson is nursing a broken thumb that will keep him out of full activity, but Tech fans have to love seeing him out there in any capacity. It went for naught on a groundout, and a bit of matchup chess followed in the bottom half of the eighth as Tadlock brought in Chase Hampton. Hampton would walk one and get two outs, at which point Texas began trying to change some matchups of their own with a pinch hitter.
Tadlock countered with Derek Bridges, and Texas changed batters again. A single followed, putting two men on with two outs. Brendan Girton entered, and he got the big strikeout to end the inning. Tech went in order in the 9th, and Connor Queen entered to close the Longhorns out after Girton walked the first batter. Zach Zubia hit a potential game-changer to deep center, but once again, Dillon Carter was up to the task with a diving grab. Queen would get the strikeout on the final batter to secure the opening win, 6-3.
Game 2 was moved up to 12:00 p.m. due to weather, but this also prompted a “tape delay” of the broadcast, as the Longhorn Network decided to air the Texas softball game instead. The obligation to air the softball game is understandable, but LHN is an ESPN affiliate and the Tech/Texas game seemingly could have easily been aired live on ESPN+ or any number of their networks. This left Red Raider fans justifiably wondering if a network which serves as borderline propaganda simply chose not to broadcast a potential series loss, and even Texas fans voiced their displeasure at not being able to watch arguably the biggest regular-season game of the year.
The Longhorn Network remains the albatross around the neck of the Big XII, having directly altered the conference membership when it was first announced, and it has since proven to be a hurdle for potentially adding teams to the conference, as the revenue-sharing inequity and special treatment Texas receives isn’t exactly attractive to others. This weekend’s choice to not air Game 2 after Texas lost the first game was a pure disgrace, and the eventual rain delay meant that they had two chances to get the broadcasting figured out to at least air the end of game 2 when it resumed on Sunday. It didn’t happen, which was a massive disservice to the teams, fanbases, the conference, and college baseball itself. Absolutely unacceptable. Moving on.
Game 2 played out as the LHN execs seeming feared, with Texas Tech starting pitcher Micah Dallas mowing down Texas batters and allowing only three hits through the end of the sixth inning. Texas also held Tech’s batting in check until the sixth inning, but the Red Raiders exploded in the top of the 6th inning. Parker Kelly was hit by a pitch, and Dru Baker hit his third double of the series to put men on second and third base. Easton Murrell earned a walk to load the bases, and Jace Jung was hit by a pitch to bring in the game’s first run.
Braxton Fulford would strike out, but Cal Conley opened the floodgates with a two-RBI double to push the Tech lead to 3-0. A wild pitch would bring in Jung and advance Conley to third base. Cole Stilwell brought in Conley on a single of his own, and Braydon Runion would tack on another single until Texas was finally able to get a flyout to end the Tech half of the inning. The Longhorns couldn’t get anything going in the bottom half of the sixth and found themselves down 5-0 heading into the 7th inning.
Ivan Melendez would do the first damage to Dallas’ day on a solo home run, but that was all that either side managed in the 7th inning. The skies began to darken and the rain began to pick up in the eighth inning. Tech was retired in order, and UT finally managed to get some consecutive hits in the bottom of the eighth with a single and a double to put men on second and third with one out. With a walk that followed, Dallas’ day was done, but it was a good one overall.
However, there was plenty of work left to do with the bases loaded and only one out. Levi Wells came in and struggled to find the strike zone, only throwing one strike in his first nine pitches to walk in a pair of runs to close Tech’s lead to 5-3. Wells would regroup and get a big strikeout to get things to two outs, but with a huge, likely series-deciding at-bat coming in, the skies opened up and baseball was done for the day. The situation to be resumed on Sunday was an incredibly high-stakes one with bases loaded, two outs, in a 5-3 game.
Ryan Sublette was given the ball when things resumed on Sunday. Sublette fired three straight strikes to fan Texas’ pinch hitter in Ardoin and the inning was over. Tech didn’t do much in its half of the 9th, which brought Sublette back out to finish the job. Sublette did exactly that, with the game ending on a flyout at the wall to none other than Dillon Carter, who got to be the hero once again.
Ryan Sublette had a monster series as well with five strikeouts in four innings of work in games one and two, and Tech couldn’t have asked for a more clutch pitching performance than how Sublette shut down the 8th inning. The series was arguably won then and there, and Sublette, who had recently been named to the Stopper of the Year watch list by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, earned himself a huge feather in his cap for that campaign.
Game 3 followed shortly after, and it looked early on like the Red Raiders were going to ride the momentum from the series win to a sweep. Things could not have gotten off to a much better start in the game for the Red Raiders, as Baker and Murrell both singled, followed by a pair of walks to give Tech a 1-0 lead with the bases loaded and no outs. The day was done four batters in for Texas’ starting pitcher, and Pete Hansen came in to try to stop the damage.
Texas certainly pressed the right button there, as Hansen got Cal Conley to ground into a double play, followed by a flyout from Cole Stilwell. Tech certainly looked like it was poised to put up a crooked number in the first inning, but only managed to score a single run, so credit to Hansen for getting the job done there. Mason Montgomery responded by retiring Texas in order in the bottom of the first inning.
Braydon Runion opened up the second inning with a double, and Dru Baker’s fourth double of the series would bring in Runion to push the Tech lead to 2-0. However, Texas would have a breakout second inning, starting with an Ivan Melendez triple that turned into a run on an error. The play appeared to rattle Tech and rally Texas, as the Longhorns put the next three on base with two walks and a single. Texas took a 3-2 lead on a 2-RBI double, and would add another on a sacrifice fly to finish the second inning up 4-2 on the Red Raiders.
Montgomery would settle in from the rocky start and trade scoreless frames with Texas’ Hansen in the bottom of the fourth inning. Texas managed to put a man on second with only one out and Tadlock went to the bullpen. In 20/20 hindsight, the Red Raiders probably should have stuck with Montgomery. Two wild pitches brought in Texas’ fifth run, and Tech used three pitchers in the inning. Brendan Girton was the last to take the mound and the fourth inning finally ended on a Longhorn runner being thrown out at second base.
Both teams went in order in the 5th, but Texas added another run in the 6th after a few hits and an error. Girton was pulled for Connor Queen, and a sacrifice fly extended Texas’ lead to 7-2 at the end of the 6th inning. Andrew Devine entered in the 7th. but his time on the mound would be short-lived, as he put the first two men on. Levi Wells replaced him, but Wells’ weekend didn’t much improve from the Game 2 struggles, as Texas would walk to load the bases and then pay it off with a grand slam by Douglas Hodo III to effectively put the game out of reach at 11-2.
Chase Webster would replace Hansen and get a pair of flyouts to end the 7th, but the damage was done. Pete Hansen would leave in the 8th inning for Texas after a quality outing, and neither Tech nor Texas would get on the board in the 8th. The Red Raiders did manage to put a little bit together in the 9th, but only scored a run and lost the finale 11-3.
Overall, taking the series win in Austin was enormous for Texas Tech, figuratively and literally. The Red Raiders needed this for several reasons, and the fanbase has to more than satisfied to have won four of the last five series in Austin. Texas Tech moved up in the conference race and bolstered its postseason resume significantly. Dillon Carter did precisely what was needed by stepping up in a huge way in the outfield to repeatedly keep Texas off the board, and the efforts of Ryan Sublette, Micah Dallas, and Dru Baker all deserve recognition as well. Texas Tech now finds itself headed back in the right direction, and with more performances like this, could find themselves overcoming the injuries and being once again in the mix for very big things.