Getting off to a good start going into the Houston College Classic is nothing new for the Texas Tech baseball team.
It’s what the Red Raiders do in Houston that has been the problem.
In its previous six trips to the tournament since 2002 — Tech alternates years in which it participates — only once has Tech had more than two losses going in, that coming in 2008 when the Red Raiders were 2-3. In each of the three previous trips, the Red Raiders had at least seven wins, just as they do now.
However, only once in those previous six seasons has Tech had a winning record in the tournament, going 2-1 in 2004. That also happens to be the last time the Red Raiders made an appearance in the NCAA postseason.
The 26th-ranked Red Raiders again go to Houston this weekend brimming with confidence after a 7-1 start. But there’s a different feel to this one thanks to three wins over preseason No. 3 Indiana and a weekend sweep of Oral Roberts.
“We love being at home, but we are looking forward to going down there and teeing it up with some good competition,” head coach Tim Tadlock said. “Wherever they want to play, we’ll look forward to that.”
Before they get to Houston on Friday, however, the Red Raiders will make a quick trip today to Nacogdoches to face Stephen F. Austin at 12:30 p.m. at Jaycees Field. The Lumberjacks has their expected home season opener against Arkansas-Little Rock rained out on Tuesday.
Then it’s on to Houston and Minute Maid Park, where Tech will face Houston (12:05 p.m. Friday), Sam Houston State (12:05 p.m. Saturday) and No. 12 Rice (1:35 p.m. Sunday). The Red Raiders are just 5-13 in six tournament appearances, playing three games this year.
But given the start to this season, the re-emergence in the national rankings and the level of competition played, the players are confident heading into this year’s Classic.
“We are a tight bunch of guys,” senior outfielder Adam Kirsch said. “This is one of the closest teams I’ve been a part of. We work well with each other, we build off each other and push each other go get better. Obviously the road will be a lot different for us. We have a great environment here. We just have to learn to play in hostile conditions.”
OK, maybe not hostile, but definitely not the friendly confines of Rip Griffin Park.
But if the Red Raiders can continue their progression from the first two weeks on the road, then it should be a successful weekend.
The Red Raiders rank second in the Big 12 with a 1.25 ERA, and rank third on offense with a .296 batting average.
Pitching has definitely been the story so far this season. Tech has allowed just 15 total runs in eight games, and only once has the Red Raider pitching staff allowed more than two runs in a single game. It’s taken the pressure off an offense that struggled last season and, to a point, hasn’t gotten off to a fantastic start in 2014, averaging just 5.1 runs per game. But it’s been effective enough.
“We play each day trying more than anything to piece it together and give ourselves the best chance to win,” Tadlock said. “One of the things that I really like ... is everybody we’ve called on has kind of answered the bell, and guys come out ready to play. They know we’re going to use our whole team. It’s a 35-man team for a reason. We know guys will enjoy playing when they get to. We may not always see the results we want, but we know that.”
So far, though, there’s no arguing with the results.
Over the past decade, however, the Houston College Classic has been a great measuring stick for the Red Raiders to see how they might stack up against similar competition in the Big 12 later in the season.
This year, the Red Raiders are looking forward to that challenge.
“You can call them good programs, call them what you want to,” Tadlock said. “They put their pants on the same way we do. We’re not going to take a backseat to them. We’re going down there and expect to win.”
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