It would be easy this weekend to put an Easter theme on this season’s resurrection of the Texas Tech baseball program.
But that would also be pretty cheesy, right?
Yeah, OK. So we won’t go there. But suffice it to say that the analogy works pretty well.
Since 2004, the Red Raiders have pretty much been left for dead. Only once since 2003 have as Tech been picked to finish sixth or higher in the Big 12 preseason coaches poll, and Tech hasn’t finished higher than fifth in a decade, which was the last time the Red Raiders reached the NCAA postseason.
Even in 2010, when Tech was a game over .500 at 8-7 five series into the Big 12 season, there wasn’t as much optimism, probably because 43 games in Tech was just four games over .500 overall at 23-20.
But at 32-11, Tech has done more than enough at this point of the season to be a shoe-in, legitimate NCAA tournament team. The RPI says so. The record says so. The conference record says so.
More importantly, the way the team has played to this point says so.
Even playing three games against the No. 298 RPI team in the country (out of 302 Division I teams) didn’t hurt that much. Tech opened the weekend at No. 9 in RPI, and will likely finish the weekend somewhere between 10 and 15. That should make them a solid No. 2 seed anywhere in the country, which is what three major NCAA tournament projections this week made the Red Raiders.
Now comes the hard part.
Finishing it off.
That 2010 team failed to do so. After taking two of three from Oklahoma at home, which was ranked No. 11 at the time, Tech won its next two series against Kansas and Missouri to improve to 12-9 in conference play.
Then came the Baylor series, and the disastrous Sunday game with the controversy of Chad Bettis intentionally hitting Gregg Glime, which brought about a four-game suspension. Tech went on the road, lost all three games at Nebraska and limped into the Big 12 Tournament one game under .500, then went 1-2 in Oklahoma City and likely cost itself a regional berth in that three-week span.
Tech is in a similar position now, with two of its three remaining Big 12 series at home starting Friday against Oklahoma. The Red Raiders overall actually have more road games remaining (7) than home games (6), but only three of those seven road games are in conference play at Kansas, which at the moment doesn’t look as strong as it did earlier in the season.
“We’re ready for it,” left-handed pitcher Chris Sadberry said after Saturday’s 13-0 victory over Prairie View A&M. “Obviously, like (head coach Tim Tadock) said, we’re not looking that far ahead. We’re looking at Monday and then we’ll look at Tuesday and so on.”
That, right there, may be the one element that keeps this team from having a season-ending slump. It’s old, it’s tired and it’s cliche, but it works — one game at a time.
Crash Davis would be proud.
The rest of us, however, like to project. It’s what we do. It’s what we’re good at.
Tech has 13 games left, and the most important number staring them in the face right now is 40. 40 wins. That seems to be a magic number when it comes to NCAA selections.
If Tech wins each of its three remaining Big 12 series (not counting any sweeps), which is very doable, that’s 38 wins. For argument’s sake, say the Red Raiders win the home series and lose the road series. That still puts them at 37.
That means winning three of the four non-conference games vs. New Mexico, TCU, Oral Roberts and Dallas Baptist — which Tech is 8-1 against collectively already this season, would give the Red Raiders 40 wins going into the Big 12 Championships.
Rarely has a Big 12 team finished over .500 in conference play and been in the 35-40 win range overall and not gotten into the NCAA tournament.
So the task is simple. It’s a task the Red Raiders already know, because they’ve lived it all season.
Take care of business.
“We’re going to be ready every day,” Sadberry said. “At any moment somebody’s going to step up. We’re just not going to give in, to any team.”