Home openers have proven surprisingly difficult for Texas Tech this year, and for most of Thursday, it looked like the Red Raiders were going to get off to a good start to the weekend with an opening win. Patrick Monteverde was locked in and quickly dispatched the Kansas batters to keep the Jayhawks off the board for much of the game. Meanwhile, Texas Tech had a strong first inning in which a Cole Stilwell double brought Dru Baker in to score, followed by a Cal Conley double that plated both Jace Jung and Stilwell.
Tech held a 3-0 lead after the first inning, and things stayed that way for both sides for a while. Kansas managed to get men on base in the second, third, and fourth innings, but couldn’t bring them in. The Red Raiders looked as if they were about to put up a crooked number in the third inning with Stilwell and Jung in scoring position with only one out, but a strikeout and a flyout kept things at 3-0.
The top of the seventh inning is where things went awry for Texas Tech. A rare errant throw from Cal Conley sailed a bit high and wide to pull Cole Stilwell off the base and put the leadoff runner on. Monteverde would strike out the next batter, but his 99th pitch of the game was ripped left for a double to put two in scoring position for the Jayhawks. Tech went to Ryan Sublette to try to limit the damage, but there would not be the shutdown effort in this game that he pulled off against Texas a few weeks earlier. Sublette walked the first two batters he faced to give Kansas their first run, and a sacrifice fly scored another Jayhawk to close the Tech lead to 3-2.
In a big at-bat, Kansas got a clutch triple off the wall to take a 4-3 lead. To make things worse for the Red Raiders, a softly hit ball past the mound put Conley in a position to barehand the grounder and try to get it over to first, and again the throw was off the mark to allow the single and another KU run. Neither grounder in the inning that resulted in an error was easy to field, but both are plays that Cal Conley typically makes. After the top half of the 7th, Tech found themselves trailing 5-3.
The Red Raiders did not do much with their half of the seventh, and Sublette struck out three in the top of the 8th to keep things at 5-3. Jace Jung opened up the 8th with a homerun to narrow the Kansas lead to 5-4, but that was all Tech could manage in the 8th. Tadlock brought in Andrew Devine for the 9th inning, and Devine would open the inning with a strikeout. However, things went downhill from there, as a single and a pegged batter put two men on for Kansas.
The Jayhawk runners would move into scoring position on a groundout, and a single would score them both to push the Kansas lead to 7-4. Derek Bridges would replace Devine and get the third out of the inning, but the damage was done and Tech failed to find some magic in the bottom of the ninth for another disappointing loss in an opener. For a Red Raider team teetering on a national seed, this was not the result any Texas Tech fan wanted to see.
Friday, however, would feature a classic bounceback performance. It wasn’t a promising start to the game for the Red Raiders, as an error on what should have been a routine catch at first put on the leadoff batter. A single that followed put two on with no outs. Tech would get its first out on a fly ball, but another single scored the first run of the game for Kansas. A sacrifice fly would bring in one more for the Jayhawks, and Tech found themselves already in a 2-0 hole once they began their at-bats in the bottom of the first inning.
The Tech bats were ready to respond. A Braxton Fulford single brought Jace Jung to the plate, and Jung hit his second homer of the series to quickly tie up the game at 2-2. Tech loaded up the bases after that with Stilwell, Conley, and Easton Murrell all reaching base. Nate Rombach brought in Stilwell on a sacrifice fly to give Tech the lead. Dillon Carter and Parker Kelly would both earn walks to give Tech a 4-2 lead. That was the total on the scoreboard at the end of an eventful first inning.
Micah Dallas settled in for the second inning, retiring the Jayhawks in order. Tech’s bottom of the second included some pitching issues for Kansas. Fulford and Jung walked, and a sac fly put Fulford in scoring position. Conley reached to load the bases, and nerves appeared to get to the second Jayhawk pitcher of the day as the baseball slipped out of his hand for a balk to bring in Tech’s fifth run. Murrell would hit a sacrifice fly to bring in the sixth run for Tech, which put the game at 6-2 heading into the third inning.
Dallas again went to work as Kansas went in order in both the 3rd and 4th inning. The Red Raiders added to their lead in the bottom of the fourth on an array of hits, walks, and wild pitches. Conley, Rombach, and Kelly would all make their way around the basepaths, and it was quickly 9-2 by the end of the 4th as the Kansas pitching cracked under the pressure.
Kansas appeared as if they might get something going in the fifth with a pair of singles, but a strikeout and a double play ended the threat just as quickly as it got started. Tech’s bottom half of the fifth would largely end the game, as Stilwell, Conley, and Murrell all reached in succession and a walk pushed the margin to 10-2. Dillon Carter ripped a 2-RBI double to break things wide open and make it 12-2, and another sacrifice added a 13th run.
The Jayhawks would get two largely meaningless runs in the remainder of the game and Tech evened the series with a lopsided 13-4 win. Notably, every Tech batter would earn a walk in this game. While it was clearly not the best day from the Kansas bullpen, it could have looked even worse were it not for some sloppy Tech baserunning.
The big news leading into Saturday’s game was that Mason Montgomery, Tech’s typical game three starter, would not be starting. For a bullpen that had lost a pair of weekend starters already, panic set in for the Red Raider faithful, but the good news was that the move was reportedly intended to rest Montgomery for Wednesday’s Big XII Tournament. Chase Hampton got the call to the bump, and he would absolutely deliver.
Hampton spent much of the game flirting with a no-hitter, and he, Bridges, Connor Queen, and Brendan Girton would combine for a shutout. Queen enjoyed a nice Senior Day with his performance, and the tremendous effort from the young Hampton paired for an excellent outing from Tech’s present and future bullpen.
From a hitting standpoint, the story was Nate Rombach, who had found himself in a bit of a hitting slump for much of the year. What was a somewhat tight game until the bottom of the fourth became far more comfortable. Conley hit a solo home run to make it 2-0, Murrell would earn a walk, and Rombach would hit a 2-run homerun to give Tech a 4-0 lead.
With Tech’s pitching shutting down the Jayhawks, the only other run of the game would again come from the bat of Rombach with an RBI single to score Max Marusak. Rombach would go 2-3 with three RBIs in the game, which was the sort of hitting that everyone knows he is capable of and maybe an indication of a big postseason. He was a big part of Tech’s 5-0 win to help Tech take the series.
What initially appeared to be a nightmarish weekend was salvaged for the most part. The Red Raiders are still in the mix for a national seed, thanks in part to a surprising TCU series loss and Florida failing to steal a game from a terrific Arkansas team. Tech may well hold steady on the cusp of the 8th national seed despite Thursday’s loss, but the Red Raiders likely need a solid effort in the Big XII tournament to seal the deal. Red Raider fans are certainly hoping to see more home games in the postseason, and they might get them.