OKLAHOMA CITY — Gray, overcast skies welcomed the Texas Tech baseball team for its practice Tuesday morning in advance of the Big 12 Championship at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark.
The Red Raiders were only about 10 minutes into practice before the ballpark grounds crew kicked them off to put the tarp on as more rain advanced into the area after Monday’s severe storms that wiped out parts of Moore, Okla., just to the south.
Little did anyone know at the time that it wouldn’t be Tech’s only, or longest, delay of the week.
Just a few hours later, the Big 12 announced the start of the tournament would be pushed back to Thursday and the format would change from double-elimination to pool play.
That means No. 8 seeded Tech (25-28) will essentially need to sweep its pool of No. 1 seed Kansas State (39-16), No. 4 seed Oklahoma (36-19) and No. 5 seed Baylor (27-25) to advance to Sunday’s championship game.
With the Red Raiders having won six of their past 10 games and just their second Big 12 series of the season against Baylor coming into the tournament, confidence is not lacking.
“We’ve got plenty of confidence,” second baseman Bryant Burleson said. “It’s a new season and what we’ve done in the past is over. The last 10 games we have played pretty good, so we feel we have some good momentum coming in. It’s a new season and we’ve come here to win the thing.”
Precedent is not in Tech’s favor as the eighth seed. In the previous 15 tournaments, no No. 7 or No. 8 seed has won the tournament, and the lowest seed to win was No. 6 Kansas in 2006.
But the Red Raiders are playing some of their best baseball of the season, getting timely hitting during the past 10 games as well as solid pitching. And with ace right-hander Trey Masek (5-1, 1.52 ERA) expected to go on the mound for the Red Raiders today, more often than not, their chances of getting a win increase.
Masek could be the secret weapon against the Wildcats, as he did not pitch in the series in Manhattan in April while nursing arm and shoulder tendinitis.
Plus, at least in terms of getting off to a good start in the tournament, the No. 8 seed has done well, beating the top seed four of the last five years.
“We’ve gotten some good, solid pitching, and we’ve been in every game with our pitching,” Burleson said. “If we can get the bats rolling and get solid pitching we’ll be fine.”
Kansas State, however, has been consistently good all season, and as such captured the Big 12 regular season championship for the first time.
The Wildcats lead the league with a .324 batting average, the only team to finish above .300, and also possess the conference’s Player of the Year in infielder Ross Kivett, its Freshman of the Year in right-handed pitcher Jake Matthys and Coach of the Year in Brad Hill.
Hill said he doesn’t anticipate delaying the tournament will change much in terms of his team’s approach, even considering the Wildcats are expected to be in the NCAA postseason next week. Hill will put right-hander Blake McFadden (5-2, 3.93 ERA) on the mound vs. Tech after he limited the Red Raiders to a run on five hits and three walks with two strikeouts in five innings on April 7, a 12-2 KSU victory.
“This has been a different ride for us,” said Hill, in his 10th season at Kansas State. “The kids have shown they know how to handle things and they’ve just been a pleasure for me to coach and an honor to coach those guys. We’ve seen a lot of things to shoot for down the road.”
For Tech, the approach doesn’t change, either, not even from when the Red Raiders stepped foot on the field for the first time this season.
“We’ll just go out and play game one and go from there,” Tadlock said. “I don’t think (delaying the tournament) makes our chances any greater or that there’s a disadvantage or advantage for anyone. We’re just going to go play.”
Follow George on Twitter
BIG 12 CONFERENCE BASEBALL CHAMPIONSHIPS
at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, Oklahoma City
Pool 1: No. 1 Kansas State (39-16); No. 4 Oklahoma (36-19); No. 5 Baylor (27-25), No. 8 Texas Tech (25-28).
Pool 2: No. 2 Oklahoma State (39-14), No. 3 West Virginia (31-25), No. 6 Kansas (31-22), No. 8 TCU (28-26)
No. 4 Oklahoma vs. No. 5 Baylor, 9:00 a.m.
No. 1 K-State vs. No. 8 Texas Tech, 12:30 p.m.
No. 3 West Virginia vs. No. 6 Kansas, 4:00 p.m.
No. 2 Oklahoma State vs. No. 7 TCU, 7:30 p.m.
No. 4 Oklahoma vs. No. 8 Texas Tech, 9:00 a.m.
No. 1 K-State vs. No. 5 Baylor, 12:30 p.m.
No. 3 West Virginia vs. No. 7 TCU, 4:00 p.m.
No. 2 Oklahoma State vs. No. 6 Kansas, 7:30 p.m.
No. 5 Baylor vs. No. 8 Texas Tech, 9:00 a.m.
No. 4 Oklahoma vs. No. 11 K-State, 12:30 p.m.
No. 3 West Virginia vs. No. 2 Oklahoma State, 4:00 p.m.
No. 6 Kansas vs. No. 7 TCU, 7:30 p.m.
Sunday’s Championship Game
Pool 1 winner vs. Pool 2 winner, 1 p.m.