At 32-13 on the season, the Texas Tech baseball team has put together its best record through 45 games since 2004, which happens to be the last time the program was in the NCAA postseason.
Just 11 games remain between now and the end of the regular season. Of those 11 games, nine will be played in the Big 12 Conference, where the Red Raiders sit in fourth place at 8-7, three games behind first-place Oklahoma State and two games behind second-place TCU.
The Red Raiders are also just 31/2 games ahead of eighth-place Baylor, so there’s plenty of room to jockey for position in the last month of the season.
For a team that has been diligent about focusing on the day ahead — whether it be practice or a game — the sense to finish what has been started is existent in the Tech clubhouse.
“I guess the safe answer would be that we’re not thinking about that,” pitcher Dominic Moreno said. “But, yeah, we want to finish what we’ve started. We’ve done well to this point, but we can’t go and lose these last three Big 12 series, lose a couple of midweeks and ... maybe go into the postseason with a bad mentality or bad morale. We definitely want to finish what we started and I feel like we can.”
To do so, however, the Red Raiders will have to avoid what, at least to this point, they’ve been able to avoid — a long losing streak. Of the Red Raiders’ 13 losses, eight have come in back-to-back games, the most recent this past Monday against New Mexico and Tuesday against TCU in a non-conference game in Abilene.
Never have the Red Raiders this season lost three or more in a row, which puts the emphasis for tonight’s Big 12 series opener against Oklahoma (25-17, 5-7) on getting off to a good start this weekend.
That’s where the mentality instilled by head coach Tim Tadlock has most effectively come into play throughout the season.
“ I think coach has helped us our a lot with that,” outfielder Zach Davis said. “After every game we’re not looking back whether we got a win or got a loss. It’s done with and we just need to move on to the next game. Whether we lose or win we have to play the next game to the best of our ability.”
While the Red Raiders will look to continue their consistent level of play, the Sooners come to Lubbock in a bit of a desperate mode, losers of seven of their last nine overall and five of their last six in the Big 12.
It is just the second road series of the season for Oklahoma, which took two of three at Kansas in late March. The last two weeks, however, OU has dropped home series to Texas (0-3) and West Virginia (1-2).
“We’ve got a lot of respect for the game, first of all, and a lot of respect for the league and a lot of respect for every opponent we play,” Tadlock said. “We’ll try to play the game the right way and I’m sure they’ll try to do the same. As far as the dangers go, it’s a Big 12 weekend and you better respect the game enough to go play it the right way.”
The Red Raiders may have gotten a refresher course earlier this week on just how to do that.
Tech is coming off consecutive losses for the first time since mid-March. In a 4-3 loss at New Mexico on Monday, the Lobos took advantage of Tech errors and a hit batter and one-out double to rally for the win. The next night in Abilene, the Horned Frogs executed to near perfection, scoring on a suicide squeeze and three sacrifice flies, the allowing just one Tech baserunner to get past first in a 4-0 win over the Red Raiders.
“We got humbled in a big way the last couple of times out,” Tadlock said. “We really got took to school on Tuesday over in Abilene against TCU. Right now the feeling is to get back on the field (Thursday) for practice and try to get off on a good note on Friday.”
The Red Raiders (fourth) and Sooners (fifth) enter the weekend with the same amount of losses but three games difference in terms of victories. A good weekend for Tech could help widen the gap that exists in the Big 12 standings between fourth and fifth.
Plus, it would signal a strong beginning to the last quarter of the season.
“They’re hungry and they want to win, too,” said first baseman Eric Gutierrez, who leads the team with a .329 average and seven home runs. “I think we’ll get their best shot so it won’t be easy for us or for them. We just have to play baseball.”
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